50/50 (2011) R

Obviously this film resembles Judd Apatow's Funny People in more ways than one; and yes, it also stars Seth Rogen (Funny People, Pineapple Express), but it's a tremendous film with plenty of laughs, terrific performances and lots of heart. This is film is based (somewhat loosely) on the friendship between writer Will Reiser and actor Seth Rogen. Reiser battled with cancer a few years back and survived, thanks in part to the support of Rogen. After Reiser made it out alive, Rogen convinced him to write a screenplay based on his battle with the deadly disease. This film lacks the star power that Funny People had with Adam Sandler, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman and Aziz Ansari, but it makes up for it with a funnier performance by Rogen. Director Jonathan Levine (The Wackness, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) had yet to make a watchable film, so expectations weren't extremely high, but the three main leads had me quite intrigued.

Joesph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, 500 Days of Summer) plays Adam, whose based on Will Reiser. Adam is your average 20-something, white male. He stays in good shape by running almost everyday and eating well. His apartment is squeaky clean and he has a seemingly interesting job at the local Seattle newspaper. He doesn't drive a car because they are the second leading cause of death (well, that's just moronic). He takes precautions on a daily basis, so how could he possibly get diagnosed with something like cancer?

He's dating the pretty, but guarded Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). Their relationship seems to be going okay, but the spark sure seems to have been lost. Adam doesn't lose hope however, but he knows something needs to change. Adam and his best friend Kyle (Rogen) both work together at the newspaper. Kyle gives Adam a ride to work everyday, but Kyle certainly comes off a little selfish. Kyle despises Rachael, but doesn't throw it in Adam's face like he probably should.

Life is going along just fine for Adam and his buddy. That is until Adam starts getting back pains during his early morning runs. He thinks nothing of it, but when it persists he decides to see a doctor. After running some tests, the doc asks Adam to come in and go over the results. Obviously the last thing Adam expects to hear is that he has cancer, but that's exactly the news he gets. The rare form of cancer is in his spine, and it doesn't look too good going forward.

Adam breaks the news to Rachael. She cries, sobs and becomes angry. Adam gives her an out and tells her she doesn't have to stay with him through the battle. But of course, she stays; despite her best interests. The next morning he breaks the news to Kyle. Kyle takes it hard and hysterically begins to blow snot out his nose as tears run down his face. Adam eventually calms him down and drops the odds on Kyle: 50/50. Kyle acquires some hope with this "50/50" diagnoses. "If it were a Casino game, you would have the best odds."

Weeks go by, as Adam begins his chemotherapy. He's also assigned a therapist, who'll try to keep his head straight while he battles through the cancer and the chemo. His therapist turns out to be younger than he is, which throws him for the proverbial loop. Her name is Katherine (Anna Kendrick), and she's only months out of college. He's only her third patient. She struggles to keep Adam calm and collected. She has him lie down and close his eyes, as shes plays "soothing" music. She's seen one too many movies I think.

It's been over a month since his diagnoses, and Adam still hasn't told his parents. He invites them over for dinner and his Mother's (Anjelica Huston) first thought is that Rachael must be pregnant. Why else would they have them over for dinner? Adam's Father (Serge Houde) suffers from Alzheimer's, and he doesn't even know that Adam is his son. Adam eventually drops the bomb on his Mother and she takes it hard. She breaks down and immediately begins to map out ways she can help in any way, shape or form. Adam assures her that Rachael will there to take care of him when things great rougher. She doesn't like this idea one bit, but must accept it.

Adam's chemo sessions are shared with two other men, who're both much older than Adam. There's Alan (Philip Baker Hall), who often makes weed brownies and always sees the sonny side of things. He's already battled the disease with his wife and takes comfort in the fact that she doesn't have to go down this road with him. And then there's Mitch (Matt Frewer); Mitch is a family man who knows his days are numbered, so he tries to live each day to the fullest. They both sympathize with Adam because he's way too darn young to be cancer-ridden. Two times a week they all sit in a small hospital room and get needles shoved into their arms. Slowly the liquid drains into their veins in hope that it will do some good.

The three men become good friends before long. They have a barbecue at Mitch's house, smoke some joints and carve down some juicy steaks. In one of the funnier scenes of the film, they share brownies at the hospital and Adam has one too many. He ultimately gets ultra-mega high. He slowly roams the halls and giggles his way through the death infested building. He seems to have a second lease on life, but after Kyle catches Rachael cheating on him with another man things begin to spiral. He dumps Rachael (thank God), and sits around the house moping and getting high. To make matters worse, Mitch dies, which puts things in perspective. He realizes death may just be around the corner. He goes to Katherine for comfort, as they both are struggling. She's struggling as a therapist and Adam is obviously struggling with cancer. They also begin to become good chums, and their relationship helps Adam cope.

I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that Adam eventually survives, but this film isn't short on heartbreak and real life issues. I realize none of this sounds comical, but the comedy is sprinkled in rather effortlessly. Rogen gives this film just the right amount of hilarity without going overboard. This one will certainly tug at your heart a bit, although not to the point of tears which some critics claim. The three leads are all great, which shouldn't come as a surprise for those of you who have seen Gordon-Levitt, Rogen and Kendrick (Up in the Air, Rocket Science) on top of their games. Gordon-Levitt has nailed this type of character before, and his awkward comedy is pitch-perfect here. Kendrick is always nothing short of a delight. She glows in every scene she's ever been in. It won't be long before she is one of the most coveted leading ladies in Hollywood.

The three veteran actors also do this film justice. Philip Baker Hall (Hard Eight, Magnolia) has that perfect blend of seriousness and dark humor that always hits my funny bone. There's a Matt Frewer (Watchmen, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) spotting here folks! Remember that funny dad from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids? Well, he's in true form here and should get a rise out of you. Anjelica Huston (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited) is one of the better aging actresses still working, and is as believable as ever. Bryce Dallas Howard (The Village, Hereafter) is still growing as an actress and may never be a talent. However, she's become fond of the beautiful, yet conniving roles in the last few years (which suit her). Jonathan Levine showed much improvement as a director here, and part of that is due to the actors, but he's definitely one to watch over the next couple years.

So, here's the question you really want me to answer: Is this film better than Funny People? The answer is quite simply, no. However, it doesn't drag on in the last hour like that film did. It also takes itself more seriously, in case you found Funny People to be a little too childish. This film has a lot going for it, and I think critics and to a lesser extent, audiences, could see that. If 50/50 is still available in your area, then I suggest you give it a go. Otherwise, check it out on DVD, you won't be disappointed.
B+

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