It’s not a great title, but it’s better than the other ones: I’m With Cancer, Bright Side, and Get Well Soon. Presumably it’s pretty hard to name a film that touts itself as a “cancer comedy.” But if you were expecting Superbad with cancer, 50/50 ain’t it.

Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been diagnosed with the one illness no one wants to hear, especially at twenty-seven. But somewhere beneath his doctor’s incomprehensible, multisyllabic explanation of his condition (which a quick trip to WebMD explains in plain language) it’s clear: Adam has cancer.

Where Steven Soderbergh’s recent film Contagion focused on the life of a disease, this film focuses on a life with disease. Adam, as played by Gordon-Levitt, never fully recovers from the shock of being diagnosed. Most of his time spent in the movie is in a blank stupor. He can’t seem to comprehend that he’s ill, much less why. He’s done everything right (or at least he believes he has): he doesn’t drink or smoke, he doesn’t drive, and he occasionally goes for run. It’s, for lack of a better word, unfair.

Seth Rogen does some of his strongest work to date as Adam’s best friend Kyle – an occasionally abrasive, obnoxious, and perpetually sex-obsessed character – much like Rogen’s other personas/thinly veiled versions of himself. Except this time, it’s endearing. He’s trying to make his friend feel better and while it might not be in the most appropriate of ways, its the only way he knows how. By the third act, there’s a small scene where Adam realizes something about Kyle. It’s a great moment that I don’t want to spoil, but its the most dramatically effective of Rogen’s work (helllooo Oscar nom – kidding).

As a snapshot of the patient as a young man, 50/50 introduces a large cast of characters – Bryce Dallas Howard does what she does best by playing a horrible human being (see The Help for further proof), Anna Kendrick is believable as a novice psychiatrist who blurs the line between a professional and romantic relationship, and Angelica Huston leaves a lasting impression with little screen time as Adam’s overbearing mother.

It’s difficult to maintain a balance between light humour and the dark depths of debilitating illness, but somehow this film manages to do it.

Grade: B+



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