As devourers of pop culture we're quick to categorize our entertainment for our own safety. Comedy drama thriller sci-fi horror—everything we have the chance to consume has a label to ensure that we know exactly what we're getting.
Occasionally a movie defies classification. While not a revolutionary piece of cinema 50/50 is especially gratifying simply because of its abandonment of genre and the baggage that comes with owning one. The movie starts with a simple inciting incident: one day 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) learns that he has a life-threatening tumor growing on his spine. Of course the news doesn't sit well with the public radio producer who's in the middle of work on an exciting piece for his station just adjusting to living with his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) and sees his life as a lengthy exciting prospect. Adam never smokes he waits to cross the street he always tucks his shirts in and keeps his sweater vests tidy—what did he do to deserve this?
But Adam doesn't go on a quest to find his true self or spend days writing a bucket list. He lives his life—and its friends and family who feel the tremors of his disease. Rachael quickly finds herself off balance and unable to cope with Adam's situation while his mother Diane (Anjelica Huston) tries to coddle him finding a new opportunity she never found with her Alzheimer's-stricken husband. His co-workers throw him a guilt-induced party.
At a total loss Adam finds comfort in his pal Kyle (Seth Rogen essentially playing himself) who uplifts his spirits through dedication marijuana and loose women. Nothing seems to out-weigh the punch-in-the-gut feeling of losing his hair to chemotherapy or barely being able to walk around his house without feeling winded but Adam stays afloat thanks to Kyle's incessant goofiness and a newfound friendship in his therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick). Equally out of water in her new job the two bond over their discovery of humanism in the scientific process of beating cancer and while the growth of their relationship is one of the few things in the film that feels remotely contrived it gives Adam hope in the face of his possibly-fatal surgery.
50/50 isn't sugar sweet nor is it stone cold serious. Director Jonathan Levine allows the events to unfold in a unique and reserved realism allowing the movie to bounce from laugh-out-loud funny (thanks in a large part to Rogen's star talent in a supporting role) to tearjerker drama without any broad segues. Gordon-Levitt has established himself as one of modern cinema's best watchers the type of actor who can float through a picture without making too much a ruckus but who's identifiable and helps us understand his surroundings. But he fits right in to the Apatow-style comedy Rogen and Levine conjure up throughout the movie. In one scene Adam chows down on some pot brownies courtesy of his elderly chemo-mates (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer) leading him to groove around the hospital hall spaced out and loving it. It's an uproarious moment but poignant too—finally Adam can let go of a bit of his grief.
Providing a foundation for 50/50's minimalist tactics are the supporting cast. Howard once again proves her versatility turning an unsympathetic character into a dimensionalized presence. What Rachael does in the film isn't admirable but thanks to Howard's performance not entirely unreasonable. Huston and Kendrick are strong and grounded enough that when Adam begins to check out of life as surgery looms they don't disappear from the film. But it's Rogen who really steals the show perhaps because his friend and 50/50 writer Will Reiser based the movie on their real life experiences but the comedy-first actor steps up later in the film when the weight of reality starts to bring everyone down.
50/50 isn't a comedy or a drama but a portrait of real people surviving real hardships. Shedding a few tears over the course of the film is perfectly acceptable—the jokes are that funny and the emotion that powerful.
In the near-future a portal to Mars is discovered and the remains of a civilization are discovered. The UAC corporation sets up shop with an archaeological dig and find all sorts of cool artifacts. Then things go horribly horribly wrong in a very bloody and violent way. So a squad of bad-ass soldiers led by The Rock are sent in to clean things up. The mission is complicated by Dr. Samantha Grimm (Rosamund Pike) a scientist who is trying to salvage as much research data as she can without getting killed. The mutant zombies--or whatever they are--give the guys a run for their money. But with a seemingly unending supply of ammo the mutant-zombies are ultimately defeated. Big surprise. First this isn't a film that requires much acting. With guns being fired every time someone turns a corner there isn't much call for character revelations and tender moments. At least that's how it must have been pitched to The Rock because he only covers two emotions in this film: gruff or screaming rage. He pulls it off but the screaming gets a bit tedious. Karl Urban (The Lord of the Rings and The Bourne Supremacy) who plays John Grimm aka Reaper is serviceable in a role that requires him to have at least a little depth more than any of the soldiers. As plucky Samantha Grimm John’s sister (yeah nice twist there) Pike (Die Another Day) runs frets and figures things out pretty quickly thank goodness. She and Urban have a nice chemistry as well. Too bad they played brother and sister. Andrzej Bartkowiak (Romeo Must Die Exit Wounds) has given the fans of the popular game an action-packed film--but it just isn't enough for those of us who really love Doom. The world of the game and the world of the movie are slightly different and that's OK--up to a point. There's always a problem when you want to have it both ways. But unlike its cousin Resident Evil Doom is monster deficient compared to the game--until that is the final sequence. Shot mostly in a first-person perspective like the game it unfortunately feels tacked on. The story’s logic is ignored for the sake of trailer footage. There is a slight twist at the end which helps but it just isn’t as satisfying as it could have been.
November 08, 2001 12:51pm EST
Hal (Jack Black) spends most of his time with his sleazy friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander) in nightclubs chasing women who basically look like supermodels. Ironic considering Hal and Mauricio are both unattractive and devoid of personalities. In one of the film's funnier moments Hal gets stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Anthony Robbins who hypnotizes the shallow fellow into seeing people's inner beauty rather than judging them purely on looks. Shortly after Hal falls for Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow) who he sees as skinny knockout rather than an obese woman. (Rosemary's inner beauty comes from being a Peace Corps volunteer who also helps out at the burn unit of the local hospital.) Annoyed that his best friend is dating a "rhino " Mauricio convinces Robbins to remove the spell so that he can have his old judgmental buddy back. Hal is then left to deal with seeing Rosemary for what she physically is and confront his feelings for her.
In Shallow Hal Paltrow (Bounce) makes a departure from her usual corseted roles and was convincing as the shy unconfident Rosemary. But most of the laughs come from seeing chairs collapse underneath Paltrow's supposed weight and getting a glimpse of her large purple thongs rather than her performance. The film also delivers many never before seen shots of Paltrow's crotch whether it's of her bending over in skimpy lavender lingerie or falling off a collapsed chair in a dress with her legs flailing. Either way we definitely see Paltrow in a different light. Black (Saving Silverman) is impressive playing the part of a guy who doesn't get that he's with someone obese. His confused reactions like when Rosemary's end of a canoe outweighs his are genuinely funny. Alexander (The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle) is equally amusing with his painted on hair but his character's neurosis parallel's Jerry Seinfeld's a little too much.
Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly move away from their usual gross-out comedies like Dumb and Dumber and attempt a more heartfelt picture hoping to make people laugh and cry. Shallow Hal however does not succeed on either levels. The film is constantly driving home the point that it's wrong to judge people based on their looks but then derives most of the laughs from people's appearances. At one point Mauricio explains that Rosemary has "cankles " an anatomical appendage that happens when someone is so fat that their calves hang down over their ankles. Sure it's hysterical but are we supposed to laugh or become conscience-stricken? If it is at all possible to fuse politically incorrect humor and sensitivity it doesn't happen in this film. And while Paltrow has said she believes Shallow Hal will challenge the audience's perception of fat people it probably won't.