Before his diagnosis, Adam jogs. After diagnosis, he sits on the couch. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star in slice-of-life indie 50/50.
  • Before his diagnosis, Adam jogs. After diagnosis, he sits on the couch. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star in slice-of-life indie 50/50.
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50/50 *

A slice-of-life indie about a young man facing cancer, overstuffed with Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Up in the Air’s Anna Kendrick as the world’s worst beginning therapist, and Anjelica Huston. Rogen looms especially large as a best friend so sex-minded that he keeps his bunghole shaved but leaves his face stubbly throughout.

A slice-of-life indie about a young man facing cancer, but the young man in question is sour and immature. (Are we supposed to cheer when he chews out his wandering but repentant girlfriend? When he finally figures out how to use his cancer to get laid?) And the great journey he makes when confronted with the possibility of his own death is toward...becoming slightly less sour and immature. You know: treat mom like a person, remember that those around you are doing their best. Baby steps!

A slice-of-life indie about a young man facing cancer, but the cancer doesn’t really get to let loose. Before diagnosis, Adam jogs. After diagnosis, he sits on the couch. He shaves his head. He throws up (once). He smokes pot. He feels tired. 50/50 is billed as a comedy, but it mostly avoids looking for (admittedly dark) humor in the physical devastation wrought by both disease and treatment.

A slice-of-life indie about a young man facing cancer, but the life in question is so slight that it’s hard to see the slice. Our hero has quirks ­— neatness, nail-biting — instead of a recognizable personality. There’s a dog and a house. Ordinary troubles with work and money don’t really come into play — such mundanities would get in the way of the film’s real interest: the love life of the (young, handsome) cancerous man.

All that said, the film is not without heart, and the gray Seattle skies lend a somber background to the hijinks. Gordon-Levitt knows how to put across youthful bewilderment. And I sincerely enjoyed the late-stage cancer duo of Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall. Guess that makes me old.


Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure **

Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D. ‘s audio vérité experiment

In 1987, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D. were two recent Midwest college grads making a go of life in San Francisco, living in a cheap, garishly pink Lower Haight apartment complex and making audio recordings of their neighbors’ arguments. If that last bit sounds odd, a word of explanation: the neighbors, Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman, were tremendous drunks, and even more tremendous quarrelers. The recordings began as a kind of defense mechanism, but soon morphed into something more — something approaching theater. Eventually, after a stint as an underground phenomenon, they became just that.

It’s not an easy watch. You begin, like Eddie and Mitchell, by being queasily fascinated with these two drunken, broken souls locked in vitriolic verbal (and physical) combat. Why do they stay living together? How does the homosexual stand the homophobe, and vice versa? But, after awhile, the locus of queasiness shifts to the two guys making and distributing the recordings. Yeah, they talk about street art, found sound, and audio vérité. Yeah, they stumbled into their positions as cultural curators of this most intimate domestic portrait. And, yeah, you can see eerily personal nightmares like this all over YouTube today. But they also make a business out of their art, and money has a way of making things ugly and tedious. To his credit, filmmaker Matthew Bate does not shy away from the machinations surrounding filthy lucre, and a fair chunk of the movie is devoted to questions of rights and cash. Then again, maybe it’s all he can do, given that those machinations never amounted to much.

The story of Shut Up Little Man! raises lots of good questions about the wellsprings and morality of art, and in so doing, it tempts the critic to play the commentator. Your mileage may vary, but it left me with one overwhelming conclusion: the casual and profitable display of the broken for the sake of entertainment, enjoyed here by the underground cognoscenti of yesterday, today serves as the foundation for the most expository of reality television made for the howling masses. Sure, it’s fascinating. But does that make it good?


Tucker & Dale vs. Evil **

Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, a charming, gory spoof of hillbilly horror films.

Maybe Alan Tudyk does not covet the blood-spattered crown that Bruce Campbell laid down following Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy. But after this charming, gory spoof of hillbilly horror films (when will these college students learn to stay out of the woods?), I’d say it’s his for the taking. It’s all there: the movie-star looks thrown off-kilter by one facial feature (Campbell’s too-heroic chin, Tudyk’s puppy-dog eyes), admirable composure in the midst of insanity, and most importantly, the ability to play it straight without playing it serious. (Unlike, say, George Clooney, saddled with Tarantino cool in From Dusk Til Dawn.)

Amazingly, Tudyk isn’t even the star of the show. That honor rests on the beefy shoulders of Tyler Labine as Dale, his bearded, bashful best buddy. The comedic high point of Tucker and Dale comes early, during one of the film’s many references to various horror classics. But hilarity, homage, and lighthearted carnage aren’t the point of the story. That comes later, when Dale tells pretty, kindhearted psych major Allie, “I should have known that if a guy like me talked to a girl like you, somebody would end up dead.” No one ever said that chasing your romantic dream would be easy or that nobody would get impaled on a stake in the process. Tucker and Dale isn’t subtle — too many gags, too much plot — but it’s sweet.

Special bonus points for casting Jesse Moss as a hillbilly-hating preppie: the look of Tom Cruise circa Risky Business combined with the scary intensity of Tom Cruise circa Oprah’s couch. Even more points for not making the black guy die first.


My Afternoons with Margueritte *

Is it weird that I’m praising Tucker and Dale’s portrayal of a fat guy with low self-esteem over that of French acting giant Gérard Depardieu in a film that made me sob from its unbearable loveliness more than once? Probably. But there it is. Because for all the absurdity in Tucker and Dale, there is a fundamental honesty about people. Margueritte, on the other hand, is a sweet fantasy of redemption, the sort that imagines we can emerge from a lifetime of childhood abuse unscathed, still full of innocent kindness.

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