Delivering laughs and angst in almost equal doses, “50/50,” now playing in Capital District theaters, is sometimes emotionally draining. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Inception”) as Adam, an eccentric young man who learns he has cancer, and Seth Rogen, as his best friend, both turn in excellent, sensitive performances.
Will Reiser’s script, though inspired by his own experience dealing with cancer, is pretty much paint-by-numbers and at no point should the audience expect to actually be surprised. What he does well is combine comedy with pathos. Cancer isn’t funny, but life sometimes is, and “50/50” gets that funny things can still happen in the life of someone who’s dealing with something deadly serious.
Adam is a pleasantly eccentric guy, who is dutifully waiting for the walk light at a completely empty intersection on his morning jog when we first meet him. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t drive. He’s the last guy in the world you’d expect to get cancer, which is exactly what happens to him.
The medical profession doesn’t come off especially well in this movie, a fact the filmmakers are savvy enough not to beat us over the head with. The only bright spot in his treatment regimen are his new medicinal marijuana buddies (Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall) and his therapist, Katharine. Anna Kendrick (“Twilight,” “Up in the Air”) has the cuteness factor set high as Katherine, whose office and car are constantly messy.
Bryce Dallas Howard nails the part of Rachael, Adam’s well-meaning artist girlfriend, a character the movie wants to make worse than she is. She’s in over her head as a caregiver to a seriously ill patient. As a couple, Adam and Rachael have progressed to the “she gets her own drawer in his apartment” phase. A lot is put on her shoulders, and she tries, if ultimately fails, to do the right thing.
Angelica Huston is effective in the somewhat clichéd part of the over-protective mother, a role that’s less colorful than it seems to want to be here.
Director Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”) takes the material as it is. His approach is straight-forward, commendably free of “Look ma, I’m directing” flourishes. He handles the comedy without artificial laugh track pauses and isn’t afraid of the drama. In a word, he handles this as well as anyone. Only one scene, in which Gordon-Levitt and Rogen destroy a painting left behind by Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, reeks of self-indulgent improvising.
That scene aside, this an excellent cast doing excellent work. Rogen is marvelous in this movie, and he probably should be, as his character was probably modeled on him. He does the vulgar, profane shtick audiences are familiar with, but there’s depth this time out. Yes, he’s using his friend’s illness to pick up girls in bars, but he’s also incredibly loyal, underlining passages in a dog-eared copy of “Facing Cance Together.”
A special note should be made regarding “Skeletor,” a retired greyhound adopted for Adam by Rachael, played by two dogs, whose face is so expressive he should get a special Oscar.
“50/50” is released by Summit Entertainment, and was shot in what should have been familiar territory: the British Columbia area of Vancouver where the studio’s “Twilight” movies are shot. This film has much the same gray, rainy look.
Like the saying goes, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry. What you won’t do is gasp in surprise. But given the subject matter, did you really want to?
“50/50” is now showing in Capital District theaters, including the Bow Tie Movieland 6 in Schenectady, the Rotterdam Square Cinema, the Regal Colonie Center Stadium 13, the Regal Cinemas Crossgates Stadium 18 & IMAX, the Regal Cinemas Latham Circle Mall 10, the Spectrum 8 Theatres in Albany, the Regal Cinemas East Greenbush 8, the Regal Cinemas Wilton Mall 8 and the Emerald Cinemas in Amsterdam.