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Movie Review: 50/50

Seth Rogen presents the lighter side of cancer

50/50 Movie Review starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen

Courtesy Summit Entertainment

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen star in 50/50.

Directed by Jonathan Levine
Rated R, Runtime: 99 mins.
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick

En español  |  There's nothing funny, of course, about cancer, but as one of the great equalizers of humanity — Steve Jobs and Steve the Plumber are similarly likely targets — the Big C has always been an irresistible jumping off point for comedy, and not just of the darker sort.

At the outset, 50/50, the brilliant new comedy from writer Will Reiser and director Jonathan Levine, threatens to go the pitch-black route. That seems particularly so when Seth Rogen, as the best friend of a 27-year-old guy who's just been diagnosed, tries to reassure his pal by naming young people who've beaten cancer, among them Lance Armstrong ("He keeps getting it!").

But 50/50 has more in mind than awkward amusement. Its many honestly earned laughs grow from the sheer likeableness of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, the patient in question, and from the intensely felt screenplay by Reiser, who overcame a rare form of spinal cancer in his early 20s and was helped through the ordeal by his best friend…Seth Rogen.

With a wry smile and a healthy understanding of his survival chances (50-50, of course), Adam navigates his treatments with the expected elements of shock, denial, and determination. Much of the great fun of 50/50 comes from the reactions of Adam's keenly observed friends and family. Best buddy Kyle (Rogen) immediately conjures up scenarios that will enable Adam to use his illness to pick up girls (with Kyle close by to collect collateral female companionship); his mother (a heartbreakingly funny Anjelica Huston) insists on moving in with him, a fate that for Adam would seem worse than death; his self-absorbed girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), soon becomes disenchanted with her role as heroic caregiver; his lovely young shrink (Anna Kendrick) becomes uncomfortably invested in Adam's personal life.

The characters, each and every one, transcend type, and they give 50/50 an authenticity that is uncommon in most comedies. Anyone who has ever sat across from a physician and gotten truly bad news will recognize immediately the maddeningly evasive, eye-contact-averting manner exquisitely captured by Andrew Airlie in a small, pivotal role. Huston masterfully captures both a mother's instinctive protectiveness ("How could this happen to my child?")…and also the unspoken guilt that comes with the inevitable subtext ("How could this happen to me?").

Honest without being angry, funny while avoiding farce, 50/50, as its name implies, strikes a perfect balance.