'50/50' review: It works about 75 percent of the time

RedEye movie critic

*** (out of four)

A raunchy comedy about cancer? What's next, a musical about abandoned puppies?

Actually, “50/50” may be a daring set-up for a movie, but it's very funny, sometimes moving and inspired by real life. Screenwriter Will Reiser really did survive cancer in his 20s, so he should know what 27-year-old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is going through when he's diagnosed with a nasty tumor on his spine. Adam, of course, can't believe it. He jogs. He doesn't drink or smoke. He doesn't even drive. So while his healthy lifestyle has done him no favors, he’s lucky enough to have a best friend in Kyle (Seth Rogen), a pop culture-spewing, very Seth Rogen-y riot who backs his friend all the way—when he’s not playing off girls’ sympathy for the guy whose best friend has cancer.

“50/50” works too hard at comedy and not hard enough at drama. It’s never clear how Adam is feeling; this may be a result of Gordon-Levitt, who doesn't fully develop his character’s emotional range, being brought onto the movie only a week before filming. And though Rogen's hilarious, Kyle's constant movie references grow tiring. You'll wish for a little more substantial conversation, a little less auditioning for a Judd Apatow movie.

The relationships between the characters pick up the slack, especially Adam's comfortably symbiotic relationship with Kyle, his evolving dynamic with his 24-year-old therapist (Anna Kendrick, immensely charming); and his difficulty communicating with his mom (Anjelica Huston) when her concern only stresses him out and makes him feel babied. Better and tighter than “Funny People,” “50/50” is more interested in healing through laughter than confronting the tough stuff. That's why the treatment goes down so easy.

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