Mining the misery of coping with cancer for comedy may not sound like a promising premise, yet 50/50, based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s bout with the illness, pulls it off with humorously heartfelt aplomb.
When Seattle public radio writer/producer Joseph Gordon-Levitt is diagnosed with the disease he’s unsurprisingly devastated, but he has a devoted girlfriend(Bryce Dallas Howard), and a supportive best friend (Seth Rogen) to help get him through.
Uh, make that just a supportive friend, as Rogen discovers at an art gallery that Howard is cheating on Gordon-Levitt and has photographic evidence of this on his cell phone. Howard is soon out of the picture, and Gordon-Levitt turns to Anna Kendrick as a therapist who’s adorably awkward in her newness to the job as she admits he’s only her third patient.
You got to love a movie that makes a convincing case for exploiting your ailment to get laid, a plan that anyone could guess was the scruffy Rogen’s. After helping shave Gordon-Levitt’s head with his “ball trimmers,” Rogen takes his friend out to a club in one of the film’s funniest scenes where they learn that “I have cancer” is not an effective pick-up line.
So the profane, yet mildly profound 50/50 is essentially a bromance in the Apatowian tradition, but it doesn’t try too hard for laughs, they come naturally from conversations and situations that feel lovingly adapted from real life.
Take the case of Gordon-Levitt’s parents. The always welcome Anjelica Houston has the well-worn worried-sick mother part, but doesn’t overplay it. Likewise Serge Houde as the father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Neither character is exaggerated for comedic effect, or absorbed in messy melodrama and that’s incredibly refreshing to witness.
I was amused as much as I was touched by this film. I’m fine with Gordon- Levitt doing big ass Christopher Nolan flicks, and Rogen trying to find his footing in stoner superhero movies (or whatever the Hell you’d call the upcoming JAY AND SETH VS. THE APOCALYPSE), as long as they do funny small scale stories with emotional pull like this every once in a while.