What are the odds of this poignant serio-comedy succeeding? Just about the same as the survival odds that 27 year-old Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) faces when he’s diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.
Sensitive, seemingly healthy Adam works as an NPR producer and regularly jogs around his hometown of Seattle. But, occasionally, his back aches and he suffers night sweats – which leads him to seek medical care. When an oncologist coldly informs him that a large, malignant tumor is growing along his spine, scared Adam’s reaction is entirely plausible: “I’m going to throw up,” he says.
Sharing Adam’s shock, dread and bewilderment are his raunchy buddy, Kyle (Seth Rogen); his sexy, self-absorbed artist girl-friend, Rachael (Bruce Dallas-Howard); and his anxious mother (Anjelica Huston), who is caring for his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father (Serge Houde). Predictably, they each react differently, creating individually frustrating subplots. So Adam’s greatest support comes from Katherine McKay (Anna Kendrick), the earnest 24 year-old novice psycho-therapist assigned to his case.
Director Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) elicits engaging, endearing performances from the entire ensemble, including the cranky curmudgeons he meets at his first chemotherapy session who get him high on macaroons baked with medical marijuana. But most memorable is the genuine friendship – or loyal bromance, as it’s called nowadays – between Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“500 Days of Summer,” “Inception”) and Seth Rogen (“The 40 Year-Old Virgin,” “Funny People”).
And now for the rest of the story…when screenwriter Will Reiser was diagnosed with spinal cancer in 2005, his real-life buddies Seth Rogen and producer Evan Goldberg urged him to keep a journal and write a script about how people in their ‘20s deal with the concept of mortality, a crisis they’ve never confronted before. Six years in remission, Reiser discovered that writing forced him to confront and process all the painful memories. Many in the audience may have the same reaction. Since my first husband died of cancer, I know I did.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “50/50” scores an emotionally cathartic 8, ending on a convincingly upbeat note.