When a young public-radio producer learns he has a malignant tumor on his spine in “50/50,” his best friend tries to use the disease as a babe magnet.
Based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s own experience with cancer and his friendship with co-star Seth Rogen, the film neatly treads the fine line between comedy and tragedy. Whenever emotions sway in one direction, Reiser and director Jonathan Levine quickly reverse course and keep things balanced.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a touching performance as Adam, a nail-biting, 27-year-old from Seattle whose illness aggravates his relationships with his self-centered girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his overprotective mother (Angelica Huston) and the inexperienced therapist (Anna Kendrick) handling his case.
Rogen, who has made a career of wise-cracking slacker characters, tones down his usual shtick as Adam’s buddy and colleague Kyle. He provides crude comic relief, but also proves caring and supportive.
Along with cancer jokes about Lance Armstrong, there are moments of genuine emotion.
Facing life-threatening surgery, Adam calls his therapist and bemoans all the things he’s never done. Later, when Kyle drops Adam off at the hospital for his operation, their bond is expressed with almost no dialogue.
“50/50” refers to Adam’s chances of survival. The odds are better that you’ll appreciate this film.
“50/50,” from Summit Entertainment, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***
Dark clouds hover over “Take Shelter,” an ingeniously frightening film about an Ohio man plagued by nightmares of an apocalyptic storm.
Curtis (Michael Shannon), a sand-mining company worker with a 6-year-old deaf daughter (Tova Stewart), isn’t sure if he’s seeing the future or suffering from paranoid schizophrenia like his mother (Kathy Baker).
His wife, Samantha (Jessica Chastain), leans toward the latter after he borrows money to expand their backyard tornado shelter instead of focusing on their daughter’s upcoming cochlear implant surgery.
Writer/director Jeff Nichols does a brilliant job of slowly building tension as Curtis grows more and more obsessed with his stormy visions. In one scary scene, he stands in a field during a thunderstorm as an oily rain pours down; in another he imagines a stranger snatching his daughter.
As the nightmares continue, he gives away the family dog, buys gas masks and delivers a raving speech at a local Lions Club dinner.
We’re never quite sure if Curtis is a madman or a prophet. The last scene, on a South Carolina beach, may frustrate those looking for a clear answer.
“Take Shelter,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***1/2
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)