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Movie review: ’50-50′

 Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen portray best friends in the new dramedy 50-50.

Likeability of the New Dramedy About Cancer are About ’50-50′

  By Maggie Scott

   For a person who actually experienced the stress, shock and challenge of cancer in his twenties, Will Reiser, the screenwriter for the new dramedy, 50/50, had a hard time finding the pulse of a story that badly needs a transfusion of genuine, not cliché feeling,. Also some surgical trimming of gravely ill-conceived humor.

Sharing Reiser’s journey from diagnosis through treatment was the actor Seth Rogen.  The two collaborated on turning the experience into a script; and the subsequent casting of Rogen as Kyle, the best bud of Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), works, if you’re looking for someone skilled at portraying frat boy humor, tinged with barely-works black humor.

It’s hard to know why the story lacks inspiration.  Reiser either had no diary or journal of the experience to refer to, or he was still too close to the experience to write objectively.  The script doesn’t seem to have the courage of its convictions-—whether it’s taking on the desperate feelings a cancer patient deals with, the trauma of treatment and the chaos of dealing with the medical establishment (there is no mention either of money or insurance issues) or the messy, fraught dealings with parents and significant others.

Reiser’s script plays it safe—whether it’s going for raunch or revelation.   At one point, a character accuses Kyle of using Adam’s illness to pick up girls; and in a way that’s precisely what’s wrong with the movie.  It uses our fascination with and dread of cancer merely as an exploitative hook, without making it a solid basis for revealing truth about humans facing mortality, asking for help, and relying on friendship.

Gordon-Levitt does a fine job knocking up against the narrow parameters of Reiser’s portrait of Adam, whose ordinary life is turned upside-down by the news he has a malignancy with fifty/fifty odds of survival.  It’s quickly apparent that besides Kyle’s well-meaning, but oafish, attempts at support, Adam is going to have to rely on his own inner resources to get through the physical and mental ordeal.

From detached doctors, disloyal girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) and distraught mother (Anjelica Huston), no one (at least as they are cavalierly portrayed) who should be Adam’s first line of defense seems up to the task of being the pillar of strength he needs.  Parents: Dad has dementia and Mom gives Adam migraines.  Best Friend: thinks “medicinal pot” and getting Adam laid are good for what ails him.  Girlfriend: doesn’t want to “mix the negative (chemo) with the positive—an energy thing.”  Therapist (Anna Kendrick): her work with Adam will be part of her dissertation.

The ending is too pat, the characterization of a professional counselor is laughable, and the moments of genuine emotion are few and far between in this sickly entry into an over-worked genre. A Summit Entertainment release, rated R for sexual situation, partial nudity, language, drug use.





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