Most critics think the comedy about cancer proves anything can be funny.
By Eric Ditzian
When Will Reiser first found out he had cancer, he and his comedy-writer buddies (including Seth Rogen and "Pineapple Express" scribe Evan Goldberg) would jokingly wonder if Reiser's disease would bring them all a Make-a-Wish opportunity to hang with Led Zeppelin.
That rock-and-roll dream never came true, but Reiser's battle with, and eventual remission from, cancer did gift them all with one thing: "50/50," a comedy (out now) that is drawing rave reviews from critics and is being discussed as a possible contender come awards season. Though not all reviewers have found it easy to find yuks in a deadly serious topic, far more point to the film as an example that nothing is out of bounds when it comes to art and comedy; handled deftly, anything can lead to laughter and learning.
"Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a nice guy with a great job at a Seattle NPR station, a promising relationship with up-and-coming artist Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), a best-friend-since-high-school named Kyle (Seth Rogen) to hang with -- and, as he learns to his horror in a doctor's office, cancer. ... Also woven deftly into the mixture is Anna Kendrick as a young (very young) therapist assigned to work with Adam; [Anjelica] Huston as the kind of mother who explains 'I want you to know that I smothered him because I love him' to anyone who will listen. ... It's not a perfect movie, but it doesn't matter. '50/50' takes on a bold subject and makes us laugh and cry. I thought I didn't want to see a cancer comedy; I was wrong." -- Moira McDonald, The Seattle Times
"Scenes where the pals trash a piece of once-important memorabilia in a backyard rampage and the after-effects of pot-laden cookies scored at the chemotherapy clinic show loopily grinning Gordon-Levitt at his best. Kudos to [director Jonathan] Levine for not letting Rogen's very funny comedic bits overshadow the proceedings. The actor dials it down ever so slightly and isn't afraid to be the butt of jokes -- watch for Gordon-Levitt's spot-on Rogen impersonation. The suggestion a bald head and a cancer diagnosis could be the ultimate pickup leverage leads Adam and Kyle into funny territory. But the hilarity turns with the exploration of deeper relationships as Adam finds new friends among the genial stoners of all ages at the chemo clinic." -- Linda Barnard, Toronto Star
"[Reiser] draws on his personal battle with a rare form of that disease. His success rate in the delicate balance between comedy and the profound devastation of such an illness is much greater than 50/50, but the film is not without its tonal lapses. ... Reiser has written his characters with an indelible sweetness and vulnerability, which allows the cast to deliver performances with some depth. So a situation such as Kyle insisting that Adam and he should cruise girls at a bar looking for sympathy lays -- Cruisin' with the Big C as it were -- comes off as quite funny as does Adam's first chemo session where he ingests weed-laced sweets created by a fellow patient's wife and floats out of the hospital afterwards." -- Kirk Honeycutt, The Hollywood Reporter
"In the pantheon of tastelessness designed to make you laugh at diarrhea, menstruation, masturbation, yeast infections, fellatio and worse, you can now add a stupid horror called '50/50.' Artificial, irresponsible, filthy and forgettable, it knocks itself cross-eyed trying to make you roar with laughter at chemotherapy, with the nauseating Seth Rogen milking most of the yuks. But a stoner comedy about cancer? I don't think so." -- Rex Reed, The New York Observer
The Final Word
"The reason '50/50' works is it's not trying to force us into any particular emotion. It fits in the emerging category of sad-man comedies such as 'Up in the Air' and 'Crazy, Stupid Love,' telling its downbeat tale with tenderness, sincerity and warmth. '50/50' isn't a cancer buddy comedy or a male weepie but a message movie. The message is that you can tackle pretty much any subject matter and tell a story any way you want to onscreen as long as it's absorbing." -- Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune
Check out everything we've got on "50/50."
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.