Critics' Corner: 50/50 and Other Entertaining Disease Movies

Critics' Corner: 50/50 and Other Entertaining Disease Movies

Sep 28, 2011

As 50/50 opens this week, we give you Dave and Grae’s favorite cinematic chronic allergies, communicable plagues, terminal illness and weird funerals.

Grae: It’s time to play 12-Victim Human Centipede, Celebrity Edition!

Dave: We play that game next month. Be patient.

Grae: I select Courtney Love to be the head of it.

Dave: Calm down. The film genre of the moment – at least in my own mind -- is Illness-Core.

Grae: All right, I can get with that, too. I saw 50/50 last week and I cried like a little b*!@#. I cried on the drive home, too. Did you cry?

Dave: No. It was moving in the moments when Seth Rogen wasn’t talking about his balls, but I didn’t cry.

[Spoiler-filled talk, deleted for your reading pleasure, as Grae explains why she wept over specific plot developments and Dave tells her that girls are weird.]

Grae: But isn’t Anjelica Huston incredible in this movie? And she’s on screen for fewer than 10 minutes.

Dave: Like Gwyneth Paltrow, except alive. Watching Paltrow bite it in Contagion was one of my most pleasurable 2011 film-watching moments. I really respond to proxy illness in movies. It’s like I get to have fast harmless plague or cancer or even chronic extreme allergies, such as in Safe.

Grae: That movie made me want to go live in a hyperbaric chamber. Explain it to readers.

Dave: It’s one of the strangest and creepiest movies of the 1990s, directed by Todd Haynes and starring Julianne Moore as a fragile Southern California housewife with slowly intensifying, life-destroying chemical sensitivities. Eventually she has to go live in a hypoallergenic hut in the desert. It is awesome and disturbing.

Grae: Let’s talk about Stepmom, speaking of the ’90s. And disturbing.

Dave: Shifting gears from best to worst…

Grae: I kept rooting for Susan Sarandon not to die of cancer so that the movie could continue to be watchable. It cheated so hard. It’s all cute with the singing into the hairbrushes and Julia’s big tooth-filled mouth and then – BAM! -- here comes Christmas with Sarandon making quilts for her children and giving them both a final goodbye monologue. You cry while it twists your arm and you wish Julia would just volunteer to be the die-er instead.

Dave: Curse you, Stepmom.

Grae: Meanwhile, I love Steel Magnolias. It kills me every time.

Dave: No way. That’s as awful as Stepmom.

Grae: Yes! Wait. I mean no!

Dave: I’m immune to Steel Magnolias. And to its spiritual cousin, Beaches. I feel nothing.

Grae: You feel nothing? Are you a robot? Olympia Dukakis, for Pete’s sake!

Dave: Wait, that’s not correct. I don’t feel nothing; I feel irritation and anger. I want everybody to die of something at the end of films like that. I’m not a fan of movies that keep poking you with a stick until you cry.

Grae: exclusive: DAVE WHITE IS A ROBOT.

Dave: Having said that, I liked Terms of Endearment and that one with Meryl Streep and Renee Zellweger, One True Thing. Both of those felt like the manipulation was operating on a way less boneheaded level. I could be wrong about One True Thing, I’m sure. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it.

Grae: Was that with the old Zellweger face or was it during the Squinty McClintock years?

Dave: That was the O.G. Zellweger face. So you’re safe to watch it. Look, I’m going to backtrack a little. It might just be my Beaches. I didn’t cry—

Grae: --because of how you’re a robot.

Dave: But I thought it was serious and moving and earned the tears.

Grae: Longtime Companion, about the first wave of AIDS, is in that class, a drama without being pushy. And it came out at the height of its real-life subject matter hitting people the hardest. It was also sort of a Contagion-style horror movie because it was about people who never even knew what hit them.

Dave: And the oddest thing is that Contagion seems less like a movie with an AIDS subtext than—

Grae: I was about to say that, yes. It’s more like 9/11 and 10 years of fear subtext. All of that general anxiety floating around in the air.

Dave: Have you ever seen Silverlake Life? Not to change the subject away from metaphors or anything. But it’s about AIDS, too.

Grae: No, what is that? And does Silverlake refer to the Silverlake region of Los Angeles?

Dave: Yep. It’s a documentary from the early 1990s and if you think Longtime Companion made you cry, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. These two guys have AIDS and they make a documentary about it and then they both die on camera. They had a friend finish the movie for them after they died.

Grae: Oh, man.

Dave: Yeah, it’s not an “entertainment,” but if you can handle that kind of brutal heaviness it’s worth seeing. People forget how horrifying and unknowable that all was 20 years ago, so for the historical perspective alone, it’s an important movie to see. Also? Love Story.

Grae: The Restless of 1970. Gigantically popular and dumb as a box of hammers. Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw as preppy college kids and they fall in love and she dies of Sexy Leukemia.

Dave: Restless is tanking, box office-wise, which it kind of deserves. Explain more about the Sexy Leukemia, since Love Story is now over 40 years old and people might not even know what a big impact that movie had on pop culture at the time.

Grae: Sexy Leukemia is when you get hotter the closer you get to death. And Ali MacGraw made cancer a very attractive lifestyle choice in that movie. It also gave us an inexplicable, idiotic catchphrase that has, thankfully, died out: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Clearly, a side effect of the Sexy Leukemia was dementia. It gives me weird pleasure to say that in 50/50, Joseph Gordon Levitt doesn’t have Sexy Leukemia. They make him look like hell before that movie is over.

Dave: We have to wrap this up, but I want to also ring the bell for a great funeral movie called Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train.

Grae: Don’t know that one.

Dave: It’s French.

Grae: You and your French movies. I’m going to give you a beret to wear around.

Dave: This guy dies and he makes all his friends and family go to Limoges on the train to his memorial.

Grae: Let me guess, so they can settle their differences in an enclosed space.

Dave: Sorta. Kinda. But less easy than that. I won’t be judged by you.

Grae: Too late. Let’s end this with two communicable disease movies that I know you and I both love and that are also both completely bonkers. I Drink Your Blood and the original version of The Crazies.

Dave: Both classic late ‘60s/early ‘70s contagion films. My favorite is I Drink Your Blood because it’s about satanic hippies with rabies that they got from eating contaminated meat pies and it turns them into murderous lunatics, foaming at the mouth.

Grae: And I like The Crazies, which is about the effect of a biological weapon even though the dying people don’t know that exactly. They’re just going insane and dying. And getting back to illness as metaphor, it’s pretty much about Vietnam.

Dave: But I know why you really like it.

Grae: Because if it happened in Los Angeles right now the whole city would be dead in six hours.

Categories: Critics' Corner
Tags: 50/50
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