One scene captures the tricky tonal balance of cancer comedy 50/50. Adam, the straight-edge radio producer played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has just finished his first round of chemo. It was tough, but the kindly gents IV'd next to him made it easier by sharing their pot brownies. As the Bee Gees play on the soundtrack, Adam wanders through the oncology ward in a haze and giggles at the sad-looking patients, harried nurses, and shrouded corpses as they float by. It's complicated making a movie like 50/50, written by Will Reiser based on his own early-20s experience with a tumor on his spine. That scene, and the whole film really, intermingles anonymous tragedy with blunt comedy, but uneasily—in a way that suggests that though it's OK to laugh, we shouldn't exactly feel good about it. Although often quite funny, 50/50 is more often angry; indeed, the most welcome transformation Adam makes isn't from sick to well but from milquetoast to asshole. Once a DON'T WALK–obeying welcome mat, Adam dumps his duplicitous girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), pushes away his overbearing mother (Anjelica Huston), and offers his therapist (Anna Kendrick) some bracing sarcasm. The movie's only constant is Adam's good pal Kyle (Reiser's good pal Seth Rogen), who sticks with him through head-shaving, surgery, and despair. He reads cancer books on the john! He is a Good Person! And this is what makes 50/50 not only a cancer movie but also a Seth Rogen movie. Bros before hos before neurofibroma sarcoma schwannomas.
Best cancer buddies forever? Gordon-Levitt (left) and Rogen.
Opens at Metro and other theaters, Fri., Sept. 30. Rated R. 99 minutes.