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50/50 (Blu-ray Review)

20 Jan, 2012 By: John Latchem

Street 1/24/12
Box Office $35.01 million
$26.99 DVD, $30.49 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for language throughout, sexual content and some drug use.
Stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Anjelica Huston.

Cancer may be a sensitive topic around which to build a comedy, but 50/50 manages to find the right tone for the material.

The film stars the eminently likable Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a decent guy who catches a horrible break when at age 27 he is diagnosed with a spinal tumor and has to take stock of what, and who, is really important in his life.

Director Jonathan Levine mostly plays it straight, finding moments of humor in the margins of Adam’s situation, as those around him seem to have a harder time dealing with his disease than he does. There’s his clueless girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), who has no idea how to care for him. There’s his 24-year-old therapist (Anna Kendrick) awkwardly wading her way through her first patients. And there’s Seth Rogen as Kyle, Adam’s best friend who is always looking on the bright side, such as how having cancer can get Adam laid.

But there are also somber moments, like the realization of how our own bodies can turn against us before we even know what’s coming. Adam seems OK, but the doctors say he has something growing inside him that needs to come out. And the treatment appears to hurt him more than the cancer ever did.

The performances are strong throughout. I think key to the film’s success as a comedy is having Rogen as a supporting character, rather than the focus. This lets him serve as the comic relief rather than try to carry the load, something the much more sympathetic Gordon-Levitt is better capable of doing.

Ultimately, the film is a celebration of the human capacity to find levity in dark situations, and a recognition that things like this do happen, and that people can deal with them.

The film was written by Will Reiser, whose own experience with cancer provided inspiration for the subject matter, although in the bonus materials he says it’s not completely autobiographical.

Extras include about six minutes of deleted scenes and a few featurettes that cover the making of the film, including Reiser’s story. There’s also a commentary with Reiser, Rogen and some of the other filmmakers, and since they’re old friends it quickly descends into some raunchy guy talk to the point where you can imagine a plate of hot wings and a pitcher of beer sitting on the table between them. But that’s how life is — sometimes you just gotta laugh.

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