OSMAN RIAZ reviews bros Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen taking cancer comedy to the next level.

50/50 bro bromance Cancer Comedy Film film review funny people jonathan levine joseph gordon-levitt marijuana seth rogen the wackness

Directed by Jonathan Levine

[rating: 3.5/5]

50/50 is half-morbid, half-humorous; it’s half-serious, half-light-hearted; it’s half-bromance, half-rom-com. Indeed, 50/50, as the title bargains, is a movie of two halves.

Loosely based on screenwriter Will Reiser’s personal experience, 50/50 presents Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as a naive young writer whose happy-go-lucky existence is stopped short by the diagnosis of a Schwannoma spinal tumour (yes, that’s right, a Schwannoma spinal tumour).

The Internet forecasts an worrying survival rating of 50/50 for his tumour, but with the convenient help of his skirt-chasing, beer-guzzling bro Kyle (the disarmingly charmingly podgy Seth Rogen), Adam ventures to outsmart the odds, playing with a weak hand but a strong heart. It warms even the coldest of folk. Just ask me.

This is a bromance for today’s emotional bro. Its excessive sentimentality almost makes it a ‘weepie’ – but don’t worry, dude, it’s still boisterously macho. Like when Rogen encourages Gordon-Levitt to mutilate his ex- girlfriend’s artwork with eggs, blades, and a make-shift flamethrower.

Tackling cancer, bro style

We first see Adam jogging and it’s symbolically fitting for a performance which warms-up before breaking into a full sprint. It successively captures (even if only sketchily) the processes of cancer, from denial to sensing injustice (“That doesn’t make any sense though. I mean… I don’t smoke, I don’t drink… I recycle.”). Each time wild fear visits his eyes, it compels you to pretend there’s something in yours.

Katherine (Anna Kendrick as an endearingly naive psychotherapy student) is drafted in to comfort Gordon-Levitt, with resultingly tender exchanges and chipmunk smiles. Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall provide more comic relief as two cancer-stricken and lovin’-it old timers, as Gordon-Levitt’s cancer ‘touches’ (what a horribly gentle euphemism!) everyone.

Rogen, who puts the ‘ro’ in ‘bro’, does his thing (equipped with genital hair jokes, surprise!) as laugh-snatching to Gordon-Levitt’s tear-jerking. The initial fear that his usual over-the-top-ness will dilute the effect of the tragedy is dismissed, with even Rogen submitting a decent performance.

But the direction is without nuance. Director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness) adopts a flag-waving methodology in order to express the contrast of his ‘cancer comedy’ movie. The old bedfellows – Humour and Morbidity – renew their volatile relationship without even looking one another in the eye (as in 2009’s Funny People). With a wink and a smile, Seth Rogen waves the flag of Humour: our cue to laugh. Ha, ha, ha. Soft acoustic string-plucking is truly the sound of Morbidity and Levine tediously evokes and re-evokes this stimulus, as we become sad, sad, sad. The comedy and the tragedy are seldom combined, leaving us with only a craving for the blurring of these lines.

Laughter, as fame holds it, is the best medicine (with runners-up morphene and marijuana close behind). 50/50 realises this but it does not allow the humour to metastasise to the grieving body.

In the end 50/50  is a funny and moving film. But, without much effort, it falls short of being an important one.