MOVIE REVIEW: 50/50

50/50-- 5 STARS

It takes one heck of a movie to put a heartfelt comedic spin on the topic of cancer, while still keeping the very real drama in place.  There have been attempts to balance the two, but either the cheese (The Bucket List) or the tears (Stepmom) outweigh the other.  The recent release 50/50 pulls off that incredible feat and becomes arguably the best movie about cancer every made.  It's the best one this reviewer has seen and he's mad that he's five weeks late to this party.

50/50 is the anti-Love Story (a classic in its own right).  It's still a story about cancer coming into the life of someone under 30.  Instead of Ryan O'Neal's romance and Ali McGraw sobbing "love means never having to say you're sorry," we get the mild-mannered Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam and Seth Rogan as his best bud Kyle.

Both Adam and Kyle work for Seattle Public Radio.  Kyle is the perpetually single hound dog, while Adam is sharing his place with the lovely Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard, last seen in The Help).  Soon, after experiencing some unexplained back pain, the 27-year-old Adam gets the shocker of life when he is diagnosed with a rare cancerous spinal tumor.  The only treatment is aggressive chemotherapy and, if that doesn't work, dangerous surgery.  The oncologist sets his odds of survival at 50%.

Needless to say, the prospect of death and shrinking mortality turns Adam's life on its head.  Rachael sticks with him, but can't look at him the same way.  His worry-wort mother (the perfectly-cast and overdue Oscar winner Angelica Huston), who already is dealing with her late-stage Alzheimer's husband at home, wants to move in.  He tentatively bonds with a pair (Phillip Baker Hall and Max Frewer) of 60-something fellow cancer patients, but is stuck seeing a clueless rookie cancer therapist (Anna Kendrick of Up in the Air) who couldn't bond with wet glue.

The one person who tries to perk his spirits up and find the positives to Adam's situation is Kyle.  Best friends since childhood, he keeps our Adam in the game and on his game.  Essentially, it's Seth Rogan playing Seth Rogan, something he does in every movie from Knocked Up to The Green Hornet.  No matter the character, he's the same stoner-slacker every time.  However, in one of the highest compliments I can give this movie, his role playing his stereotypical self is actually spot-on and perfect for what 50/50 is trying to do.  While it's no different than his usual routine, this is the best Seth Rogan has ever been because he finally fits the part.

But this is still Jospeh Gordon-Levitt's show and he's brilliant.  Directed by the little-known Jonathan Levine, 50/50 is loosely based on the true story of its screenwriter Will Reiser and its a story worthy to be told.  People say it all the time, but it's true.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt has come a long way from the child actor of TV's Third Rock from the Sun.  Staying primarily in independent fare like (500) Days of Summer, save for his flashy turns in Inception and next summer's The Dark Knight Rises, he's picked his projects well and is becoming a go-to "everyman" an audience can root for.

As aforementioned, 50/50 will have you packing your tissue box to wipe away both tears of sorrow and tears of laughter.  It's more than a numbers game, though, in balancing humor with drama.  It's not about adding up equal parts.  It's about timing your jokes to fall in dramatic places when you need them and in funny places where they work like magic.  Will Reiser's script has that quality from start to finish and the performances don't miss a beat.  Mark it down now.  50/50 is easily one of the best films of 2011.  Please catch it in theaters while you still have a chance

LESSON #1: WHAT TO DO WHEN LIFE THROWS YOU A CURVEBALL-- When life gives you unexpected bad news, like a death in the family, job loss, or, in this case, a cancer diagnosis, you can't predict how anyone, including yourself, is going to react to it.  Everyone and every situation is different.  The life changes and repercussions of that curveball also can't be predicted, but how you deal with it, come to terms with it, and live your life afterwards says a lot about you.  Those who maintain their positivity, and their sanity for that matter, are something special.

LESSON #2: WRESTLING WITH MORTALITY WHEN GIVEN A LIMITED TIME OR LOW ODDS OF SURVIVAL-- To piggy-back off of and add specificity to Lesson #1, when that curveball is cancer, your morality is challenged, especially when you're under 30 like Adam.  There's a lot of life you haven't lived yet when facing the prospect of death.  Expect the whole gamut of inner struggle and roller coaster emotions from shock, denial, anger, to isolation.  Cancer is a huge problem that affects millions, but, as aforementioned, this side of Love Story, we've never seen a good Hollywood movie that talks about cancer affecting young people quite like this.

LESSON #3: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN A CANCER PATIENT AND HIS OR HER FRIENDS AND FAMILY-- To segue again from lesson to lesson, those roller coaster emotions and the inner struggle in a cancer patient undoubtedly affect that person's friends and family and their behavior towards them.  On one level, people will change the way they perceive you.  You can only get so many detached "It'll be OK" pats-on-the-back before you retreat inward with the sense that no one is really going through this but you.  Yet, on another level, while they may not have the ailment with you, those closest to you  aren't going anywhere.  They're going to work with you, not against you, and find their own way to support you the best.