Awk­ward mo­ments

Anna Ken­drick and Joseph Gor­don-levitt team up in about a man stricken with can­cer.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - By ROGER MOORE

YOU do it by in­stinct. Some­body tells you some­thing aw­ful that’s hap­pened to them, and you reach out to com­fort that per­son. A hand on the shoul­der, a hug, even. But in some sit­u­a­tions, that’s a no-no.

Anna Ken­drick learned this when she and Joseph Gor­don-Levitt teamed up for 50/50. It’s a com­edy-drama about a young man who has dis­cov­ered he has can­cer. The film’s ti­tle re­veals his odds for sur­vival. Ken­drick plays the too-young coun­sel­lor whose job is to help him ad­just to the emo­tional roller coaster that ac­com­pa­nies a life-or-death strug­gle.

Ken­drick, 26, stud­ied with a ther­a­pist who is not much older than she is, “who told me all of the mis­takes she made when she started out. I got a crash course in what not to do, and Kather­ine (her char­ac­ter), of course, does all of those things.”

“Coun­ter­trans­fer­ence” is the big one. A psy­chother­a­pist should not de­velop emo­tional en­tan­gle­ments with a client. But an­other one is that hu­man touch.

“It’s sim­ple com­pas­sion,” Ken­drick says. “It’s a gen­uine, real urge we have. But they train you not to do that. Kather­ine for­gets. That’s my favourite part of the script, this awk­ward touch­ing she does to com­fort him. ... It’s just not nec­es­sary. If you’re good at this sort of coun­selling, you can do it with­out be­ing touchy-feely.”

Gor­don-Levitt, 30, ap­pre­ci­ates the comic brit­tle­ness of those ther­apy scenes. “You have all sorts of con­ven­tions in play. This is sup­posed to be a com­edy, so she could be the love in­ter­est,” he says. “But we avoided the pit­falls and stereo­types, I think, be­cause we weren’t in­tent on mak­ing that re­la­tion­ship fit into those boxes. We wanted it to feel hon­est and awk­ward.

“We as a cul­ture have a ten­dency to tip­toe around sub­jects like this. You don’t know what to say. You don’t know if it’s okay to laugh if some­thing’s funny. You don’t know if it’s okay to smile, even. ‘ This is a se­ri­ous thing. I should be sad all the time around him.’”

The comic Will Reiser scripted 50/50, which is based on his own bat­tle with can­cer and the awk­ward­ness he en­coun­tered, from pro­fes­sion­als (like Ken­drick’s char­ac­ter) and his best friend, played by Reiser’s real-life pal Seth Ro­gen.

The dram­edy earned good re­views in the United States, with Box Of­fice Mag­a­zine not­ing the im­por­tance of those ther­apy mo­ments, call­ing it “a soft and sweet can­cer drama that hits with the force of an ill-timed hug.”

It’s not ev­ery film role that has the po­ten­tial to be life-chang­ing, but the stars of 50/50 know that sooner or later they will be deal­ing with the dilem­mas that their char­ac­ters face in both se­ri­ous and in com­i­cal ways in the movie.

“Peo­ple our age of­ten haven’t dealt with this be­fore, and all they can say is: ‘ I’m just try­ing my best. I know it’s not work­ing,’” Ken­drick says. “While we were mak­ing the film, I hadn’t dealt with this sub­ject in real life at all. But my un­cle passed away re­cently from can­cer. I thought back to what Will (Reiser) said about Adam’s de­sire to be treated like a nor­mal hu­man be­ing. Peo­ple for­got how to act around my un­cle. They didn’t know what to say. They felt like they had to say some­thing pro­found, or give some ad­vice. I made my mind up that I would treat my un­cle the same way I al­ways had.”

Gor­don-Levitt says he lost a friend to can­cer when he was much younger, a friend “who has a lit­tle sub­tle trib­ute in the film’s cred­its.” But he found Reiser’s script to have more than a few life lessons that he has ab­sorbed.

“One of my take­aways from 50/50 is that it is okay to laugh. When some­thing is funny, it’s okay to ac­knowl­edge it. Will and Seth coped by find­ing humour in the sit­u­a­tion, mak­ing jokes. And that’s got to be healthy, if ‘laugh­ter is the best medicine’.

“But the main thing for me, spend­ing all this time think­ing about what it would be like fac­ing an ill­ness that you have a 50% per­cent chance of sur­viv­ing, I came away grate­ful. Ev­ery day you’re alive is a lovely thing, worth say­ing thank you for.” – The Or­lando Sen­tinel/ Mc­Clatchy-Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices n The film 50/50 is ten­ta­tively sched­uled to open in Malaysia come Nov 24.

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