Friday, March 2, 2012

Double Feature Review: 50/50 and Drive



Synopsis: A 27-year-old man is diagnosed with a rare type of cancer with only a 50 percent probability of survival, and tries to cope with the illness with the help of his family and a friend.

The bad news first: Since I did enjoy this movie quite a bit, I'll admit that I glanced through IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes for this one. And thanks to the Internet being a giant whiny vortex of negativity, there were a few things to pick up and add here. The first, more salient point is that the movie has a somewhat meandering narrative. You're following Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) through his medical treatment and psychological treatment and family interactions and romantic entanglements and so on, and some reviewers felt that this never really coalesced into a story. There's also the fair warning that Seth Rogen isn't exactly breaking new ground here (he's kind of playing himself), and while it's a little more understated than previous roles it's likely that you'll be annoyed by his character if you've tired of the stoner buddy roles he's played in several films already.

There's also something of a character shortcoming in Adam's girlfriend Rachael, played by Bryce Dallas Howard. Writer Will Reiser, who based the movie on his own battle with cancer as a young man, said Howard's character is an amalgamation of people who abandoned him in his time of need. As such, there are certainly scenes where Rachael is likeable, and even though her ultimate failure to stand by Adam is selfish you could see how someone could feel as she does. Other moments, such as one where she forgets to pick Adam up at his chemotherapy, seem to take a bit too broad of a route to paint her as a villain.

The good stuff: The biggest complaint I've seen related to this movie, and I wholeheartedly agree, is that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was snubbed in the Oscar nominations for best actor. He covers a wide range here, from the uncertainty he feels about how he should be reacting to the disease to the foil he plays for Rogen to the downright terror that he might die. 50/50 is always right on the line between drama and comedy, and Gordon-Levitt's strongest scenes are undoubtedly in the dramatic roles. A few scenes near the end of the film are incredibly moving, and they rest mostly on his shoulders.

There are plenty of other strong performances as well. Anjelica Huston does an excellent job as Adam's caring but overbearing mother ("I only smothered him because I loved him"). Even if Rogen's character as Adam's friend Kyle is a little familiar, he still hits just about every comedic note. Anna Kendrick makes her character as Adam's psychiatrist endearing from her first scene where she admits that Adam is only her third patient on her way to earning a doctorate. Even the more minor roles, such as Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall as Adam's chemotherapy buddies and Serge Houde as his Alzheimer's afflicted father, are very memorable.

If the characters are the strongest part of the movie, the dialogue is a close second. Rogen carries most of the comedic parts, but the interplay between the cast is enjoyable to watch.

Verdict: Well worth a watch.



Synopsis: A mechanic/stunt driver/getaway driver finds himself caught up in a dangerous plot while trying to help out a neighbor.

The bad news first: A fellow I know went to the same show as me, and I noticed that he soon after complained on Facebook that the movie would have been better entitled "Staring" and that pretty much every substantial scene from the 100-minute movie had been distilled into the two-and-a-half minute trailer. Indeed, there was a woman who actually filed a lawsuit complaining that the trailer was "misleading" because the the movie turned out to be a character-driven, art house type of film rather than a Fast and Furious style romp of car chases and adrenaline.

I do have to admit a certain disappointment with the way the automotive focus dwindles into nothing about halfway through the film. You get a glimpse of each of the unnamed main character's professions, a couple of car chases, and then it becomes a bit more of a gritty drama. I don't consider it aggravating enough to file a friggin' lawsuit, though. The more noticeable weakness, as my pal there already pointed out, is that sometimes the stoic nature of the Driver and other minimalist aspects slow the pace to a crawl. When the film ramps up the violence and machinations in the second half, it seems a bit out of place thanks to the rather more lighthearted opening.

The good stuff: The only love Drive got from the Oscars was a nod for best sound editing, but it could have easily been in the running for a few other production categories. The film is extremely stylish, making great use of its sets and location. Every shot makes excellent use of the light or, if the sun's on the other side of the planet, of the bright lights of Los Angeles. It's all helped along by a soundtrack, hot pink credits, and a few other factors lending a certain 80's feel to the modern setting.

The movie is also buoyed by some strong acting performances. I was kind of on the fence about Ryan Gosling, since it seems like the director explicitly asked him to keep his facial expressions to a minimum. Ultimately, though, this means he has to convey a lot of emotion through subtle means and he manages to do this quite well. And since I'm a Breaking Bad fan, I'll generally trust anything Bryan Cranston is in.

And even if the movie hits a sluggish plateau after the first 15 minutes or so, it does pull you in once the main part of the story starts.

Verdict: Drive is certainly flawed and maybe a tad overrated, but it's worth putting on your Netflix queue (hey, if yours is like mine they've passed you over for Moneyball five times anyway).

1 comment:

  1. Sorry about the messed up font size on this one; I've tried a few times to fix the 50/50 section and it hasn't worked.