A Surprise of Sentiment and 50-50

10/03/2011 06:10 pm ET | Updated Dec 03, 2011

Whereas the term "sentimental" can be used more often than not to hint at an indulgence in the emotionality it can imply, when speaking of a movie it might refer to the film being used to pull on the heartstrings and provoke the tear ducts of the audience in a contrived and calculated manner. The film 50-50 is definitely not that. Nor is it, by any stretch of the imagination, a comedy as it has been described and even billed.

However since "sentiment" is altogether a different story, including among its definitions, emotion, refined feeling, delicate sensibility, I would say that this is a surprising film, particularly in the realm of sentiment. Since my current concentration often lands on issues related to superstition and surprise, it has involved studying ways we might become safe and motivated and capable enough to allow for surprise and to cope with evaluating our prejudices and superstitions. The evaluation of our decisions and our capacity to make changes need many more of the supports which we too often go without. This film contains both beauty and help in connecting -- certainly in my own case -- with the heart of the matter of changing our minds in the deepest of ways.

The "matter" in this case is not strictly related to cancer, but more to the way we treat and judge each other and ourselves. And of course the heart can refer to the center of things as well as how our hearts move and beat in sync with the surprises with which we are presented and those with which the characters are presented as well. Trying to shy away from anything like the more regular reviews which nowadays more than not spell out the plot line with no mercy for the very need to travel along with the experience without the spoiling so frequent, I'll just stay with the issues of surprise and engagement.

The experience began for me with a sense of disappointment, since even though countless times I've seen a film that was advertised as a comedy leave me in tears of despair, I said to myself about 50-50, "And this was supposed to be a comedy?" Not only wasn't it funny to my mind but the humor that was, was so "young" as in stupid slapstick and profanity which is at times funny to me, but well not about a cancer victim, certainly not this one. And Seth Rogen as the clumsy, obnoxiously hyper positive and selfish friend, well that turned me off. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt, as the patient, the all too patient patient -- both the adjective and the noun pertinent -- was upsettingly, well, patient. Not to speak of the young psychology intern played by Anna Kendrick, as she bumbled her annoying if innocent pathetic attempts to be effective. Anjelica Huston was herself wonderful as the smothering mother, and of course there is more, more in the beginning and much more in the middle and in the end. I'm saying that in essence, without giving away the specifics, that in all of the judgments we are perhaps even set up to have about all of these people and the issues and personality styles they present, there is the potential for a dramatic shift, so much so that the entire film seems like an emotionally unexpected set of experiences.

American films are not so much known for their elements of surprise, unless they are made and billed as films of suspense with the superimposed advertisement of a surprising twist we have in store. At the same time, the element of film that makes it still so special is that it can be transforming. We can, sitting in a seat at a theatre, and to some extent sitting at a television screening at home, feel our insides shifting around, and at times our very points of view opening up to new information. For me the best is when the information can come through and under the emotional barriers, and enter the realm where we evaluate how we feel and how we think.

I am suggesting this film be seen, even though some people will insist on calling it purely uplifting -- which it also is -- and purely a comedy, which it isn't. Comedic yes but comedy no. I'm suggesting you see it as I plan to see it again, to allow the elements of coming to know our own prejudices about the characters as about cancer as it may pertain to life in general and to our own lives.

You know the expression, "Just when you thought it was safe...," now used with almost anything attached to it but originally connected with Jaws 2's line "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water...." So just when we might think it's safe to surmise all our prejudices are the truth and the opinions of those opposing us are mere prejudice, we are in immense need to be surprised right in the middle of more than one of our superstitions and preconceived notions.

In this vein, just when we think we have these characters pegged, we find out we don't. And we feel things we didn't expect to. And in addition, if we are willing to think about the implications of such an experience, we may admit we have some work to do, so we can become engaged with experiences and actions which include an increase in critical thinking, but just as much an increase of empathy towards ourselves and others.