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Prognosis for cancer comedy quite good

Buddy movie 50/50 wisely keeps it low key


Opens Friday at the Ridge, Scotiabank

No one should get cancer. But we especially hate it when young people get it. And it seems particularly cruel when cancer hits one of the good guys.

Twenty-seven-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the good guys. He waits for the light when hes jogging, even when theres no traffic. He suffers through the hysterics of his inconsiderate girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), and his worst sin is waiting too long before calling his mom. I dont drink, I dont smoke, I recycle, Adam protests, when he gets the diagnosis from the worlds most inconsiderate doctor.

Have you ever seen Terms of Endearment? is how Adam chooses to break the news to his mom (Anjelica Huston), who is already taking care of Kyles dad, suffering from Alzheimers. Mom wants to move in, but Adam is determined to deal with it on his own.

Hes not exactly alone. Adams best friend Kyle (Seth Rogen) is there to provide as much moral support as he is capable of. So Kyle occasionally uses Adams cancer to pick up girls, and feels more than justified in getting a prescription for medicinal marijuana (its for him, not for Adam). Kyle provides the lions share of the comic relief in a story that could have taken a morbid turn, turning it into a stoner Sweet November.

Adam starts chemo, and makes new friends (Philip Baker Hall and Matt Frewer). Introductions are made: names first, diagnosis second. The more syllables, the worse it is, says Baker Hall before offering a pot-laden macaroon.

Adam is referred to a psychiatrist, Dr. McKay (Anna Kendrick), who isnt even out of school. Adam is sceptical, amused, and occasionally angered by her tactics as he cycles through the stages of acceptance and she vacillates between textbook doctoring and real human compassion.

Gordon-Levitt plays it perfectly as a regular, soft-spoken guy who is numb to his predicament, and frustrated at having to expend energy comforting his family and friends, instead of the other way around. It will all come to a head, of course, and Adam eventually breaks down (in Vancouvers Stanley Park) in a dramatically realistic scene.

The script, too, is admirably low key. 50/50 doesnt beat us with the cancer thing, neither does it overplay the tear-jerker moments, of which there are plenty. And this is a Seth Rogen movie, after all, so you can bet that a tender moment will be quickly followed up by a pee joke.

Thankfully, filmmakers deny the frat-boy temptation to play the side-effects of chemotherapy for laughs (vomiting occurs off-camera) and keep post-surgery ickiness to a minimum. This is not the Operation Channel. And early indications show that audience members arent squeamish about a cancer comedy: director Adam Levine (The Wackness) got a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival a few weeks back.

Rogen and writer Will Reiser were living together and working on Sacha Baron Cohens Da Ali G Show, when, at age 25, Reiser got sick. The script was his catharsis and became a passion project for all of us, Rogen says on the films website. In doing so, Reiser, Levine and the cast have crafted one of the best buddy movies in years.