By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin September 30, 2011 at 4:35AM
How you go create a movie about one young man’s battle with cancer that manages to respect its subject and still be funny is a mystery to me—even though the screenwriter, Will Reiser, is essentially telling his own story. Still, it’s a pretty neat trick to blend comedy with a story that’s moving and relevant; it helps to have a smart screenplay, a strong cast, and an overall good vibe. Those qualities make 50/50 one of the bright—
—spots on the fall movie map.
The ever-likable Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a 27-year-old public radio employee in Seattle who doesn’t smoke or drink, or even cross the street when the light is red—but all the same he’s diagnosed with a rare form of spinal cancer. How he and the people around him—his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), his overprotective mother (Anjelica Huston), and most of all his best pal (Seth Rogen)—react to his illness as it progresses is the crux of the film. There’s also a green young therapist (it’s a teaching hospital, they explain), played by Anna Kendrick, who plays a significant role in Gordon-Levitt’s ability to cope with feelings he’s never had to confront before.
There couldn’t be a more serious subject, yet Gordon-Levitt and especially Rogen (who co-produced the movie) make the comedy seem both spontaneous and organic. They do what all guys try to do by masking their emotions and using humor to deflect the real problems that are staring them in the face.
Director Jonathan Levine, who did such a good job with The Wackness several years ago, keeps the tone of the movie on-target at every turn, which is no small achievement.
50/50 had me crying by the finale, and gave me more satisfaction than many more ambitious films I’ve seen lately. If you, or someone close to you, is dealing with a serious illness, you might not be in the mood for it, but I can’t imagine anyone doing a better job of turning this material into a piece of uplifting entertainment.