At the Movies: 50/50

I hate cancer.

I realize that’s a bold statement to make, especially in a public forum (such as this is) but I stand by it.

I also hate cancer movies. I have no desire to watch actors pretend to go through the pain and tragedy of cancer. I’ve seen the real thing. It’s not at all entertaining. And I’m not going to learn any important life lessons through watching a fictional portrayal, even if based on a true story, of someone going through cancer. Still, I guess a lot of people find them cathartic, since Hollywood keeps making them.

Plus, I’m enough of a hypochondriac that every time I watch a cancer movie, it ends with me thinking I have cancer. And it takes a while to shake that feeling.

So I had no desire to see “50/50.” But then it started getting all these good reviews, and then it turned out nothing else opening today was going to be screened (actually there was a “What’s Your Number” screening but I couldn’t make it), so I broke down and caught the last preview. And here we are.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Adam, a young man in the prime of his life who works at the local PBS affiliate with his best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen). Adam goes to the doctor complaining of back pain and learns that there is a large tumor growing on his spine.

The tumor is too large to remove without shrinking it first through chemotherapy. The odds of survival with this particular brand of cancer are 50/50, according to an internet website.

Adam breaks the news to Kyle and his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) before telling his parents (Anjelica Huston and Serge Houde). He then begins the life of a cancer patient, which includes regular meetings with a young therapist (Anna Kendrick) and regular chemo treatments where he’s befriended by a couple of older patients (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer).

As cancer movies go, “50/50” is a pretty good one. The script was written by Rogen’s fellow comedy-writer pal Will Reiser and based in part on his own experiences. Directed by Jonathan Levine, the movie has a heartfelt, authentic feel to it and deftly mixes the comedy and drama.

“50/50” is being billed as a comedy but there’s just as much seriousness as there is silliness.  Gordon-Levitt gives a compelling performance in the lead role as he deals with all the fear and uncertainty that goes with his condition. Rogen is playing the same goofy, raunchy character that made him famous. The only part that didn’t feel real was the tacked-on romance.

Did it work for me? It’s not something I’d ever watch again but it’s a very well-made cancer movie. If you like your heavy personal dramas with a scoop of Seth Rogen-style comedy, it’s worth your time.

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