by Richard von Busack
50/50, whose alternate title could be So/So, has a pair of first-rate actors, Anna Kendrick and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Their work is regularly disrupted by Seth Rogen, the movie star who got Jonathan Levine’s cancer-themed film made. In regularly scheduled bullish (or bullying) comedy moments, Rogen’s Kyle turns up to rattle the cage of the seriously ill Adam (Gordon-Levitt). When Rogen is gone, the film develops interesting counterpoints. Rather than just the sketchily drawn victim of a dread form of cancer (an obscure spinal kind), Adam may be a kind of a princeling. He’s a bit remote.
It’s interesting to see one of the best young actors around working on the part: underplaying it, and finding some humorous notes (a cool slow-mo saunter through the hospital, heavily stoned on marijuana macaroons).
As for Adam, he’s vaguely a radio journalist, has a Charlie Parker poster but doesn’t seem to listen to jazz, and has a menorah but doesn’t seem Jewish in the customary movie sense: he’s neither sarcastically verbal nor menschy. He’s defined by the contrast between the two girls in the picture. One is Adam’s bitchy live-in Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, doing what she can with yet another punitive part) and the very nice but inexperienced grief counselor (Kendrick, unusually cast in a role of shy, toothy embarrassment).
Rogen is the shot caller—a sloppy lecherous wreck insisting on what the dick needs. If anything, Rogen’s ultimate contribution to cinema is taking the fun out of that game where you pretend that the hero and his buddy are lovers. Bromance has to go ever further to get the outraged laughs, ever closer to the unambiguous, direct sexual come-on.
On the bright side, this may be the least spiritual film about facing death we’ve seen. And the mood is right: donating a fog-bound despair is Vancouver, clearly not the Seattle it’s pretending to be. (No one worries about the hospital bills, for instance.)
Elder actors spice this: as Adam’s mom, Anjelica Huston gives a tigerish glare at a nurse. (“My son has cancer,” she says, as an argument that the air conditioning ought to be turned down.) Philip Baker Hall, as the man in the next seat at the chemo clinic, gives the surprisingly big endorsement of those magic cookies.
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