Comedy-dramas have been called many things in the past, usually ranging somewhere between unwatchable B.S. and average/forgettable. Well, my cynical friends, that’s about to change because “50/50,” the latest dramedy by Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) is bold, unexpected and thoroughly uplifting.

50/50

At Quality 16 and Rave
Summit Entertainment


For one thing, it’s a comedy that goes where you wouldn’t expect it to. In a world where the average American male, diagnosed with cancer, has no guarantee of surviving the next five years, “50/50” offers a lighthearted and humorous take on dealing with a very real and deadly disease. Surprisingly, the result is a heartwarming tale of friendship that finds one way to accurately reveal the psyche of a 20-something forced to deal with the notion of mortality.

The script, loosely based on the true story of writer Will Reiser (TV’s “Da Ali G Show”) starts off in an expected fashion, giving us a taste of how normality defines the everyday life of protagonist Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Inception”) and his obnoxious yet loveable best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen, “The Green Hornet”). Eventually, Adam notices a persistent pain in his back and visits the doctor, where he learns of the rare spinal tumor concentrated in the lower half of his back. The name of the film is a reference to the 50-percent survival rate associated with this form of cancer.

As Adam proceeds with the typically morose battery of treatments — chemotherapy, cancer-counseling and a weekly cancer support group meeting — the movie’s humorous tones begin to shine through. Instead of the characteristically weepy atmosphere you would expect after the initial burst of shock, the script opts for a lull in emotion that falls in line with Adam’s slightly awkward personality and is complemented by the repetitive routine Adam develops. This was an intelligent choice on the writer’s part, because the generally calm and collected nature of the writing adds more weight to the relatively few plot developments and makes Kyle’s antics — which include taking advantage of Adam’s illness to get girls and procure medical marijuana — all the more amusing.

But what really sets this film apart and puts it a few cuts above the everyday comedy-drama is that the acting affords it legitimate emotional weight. By the beginning of the third act, all of the characters have been laid out so completely that the audience starts to genuinely care for them. We don’t roll our eyes when Adam begins to question the significance of his existence or when Kyle, the guy who suggested chucking knives at a painting made by Adam’s manipulative ex, shows a more pensive and caring side. Even Adam’s psychiatrist, played wonderfully by Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) as tentative and awkward, attracts sympathy from the audience.

At the end of the day, “50/50” is a showcase of how good directing, good writing and really good acting allow a movie to fulfill its purpose. In this case, that purpose doesn’t just entail putting Rogen in front of a camera to spew profanity and smoke pot (even though he does a little of both). No matter how cheesy it may sound, this film shows us why keeping our heads up and pointing forward can define the way we deal with our problems. If you choose to see for yourself, expect plenty of laughs, some tears and one hell of a good movie.

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