Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception) and Seth Rogen (The Green Hornet) top line this witty and touching comedy/drama from Jonathan Levine which brings integrity to the real-life experiences of writer Will Reiser.
50/50 centers on Gordon-Levitt's Adam, a 27-year-old writer for Seattle Public Radio diagnosed with a rare type of spinal cancer, and subsequently how he handles it, as well as those in his orbit. The title refers to the odds of beating it and the condition itself may be a plot device. Like Levine's indie The Wackness it draws an overall positive interest through a formula which works hard to avoid weepy melodrama, in particular through a somewhat grating soundtrack.
Rogen's Kyle is Adam's colleague and close friend and knows what's best for his buddy (when not always thinking of himself) as the tale stays away from convolutions while tugging at the heartstrings.
Adam's artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard of The Help) loses her way in their more committed relationship after she learns of the illness. Adam shuts out his concerned dotty mother (Angelica Huston, coiffed just right for the part) and has sessions with an interning 24-year-old psychiatrist Dr. McKay (Anna Kendrick, who displayed more range in Up In The Air).
Levine does a good job in tempering the atmosphere not to get bogged down in the terminal condition, but allows his ranging, maturing actor (see The Lookout and/or 500 Days of Summer) to internalize (and provide perspective on) what is an emotional roller coaster. Adam isn't the partying type, even though he'll socialize with Kyle's help and follows the sign at a crosswalk when all is quiet. Gordon-Levitt (even remembered from his childhood days in dramas like The Juror with Demi Moore) has a sharp cerebral quality that worked well under Christopher Nolan that make his transition through chemotherapy believable as his physical condition worsens.
With Rogen (who served as a producer along with friend Evan Goldberg and Ben Karlin) in spry obnoxious form, the tale (with some crudity starting from clippers Adam uses on his head) bears some resemblance to Funny People which he costarred with Adam Sandler. Here it doesn't come out like a sprawling opus as Judd Apatow intended. Kyle hates Rachael as he seeks the same kind of pleasure his arrested-development character did in Knocked Up.
Howard eases into another unsympathetic (read insincere) character who believes she still has a chance with Adam while Kendrick evinces a sweet, naive presence to the therapeutic practitioner of her (3rd) test case. Philip Baker Hall is a fine addition as an upfront fellow cancer patient with whom Adam bonds through advice and some potent cookies. And, a relatively short-shifted Huston provides some effective dramatic heft in the latter going with some of the film's more impactful line readings.
All in all, 50/50 stays true to its namesake in its thought process, flights of fancy, and execution, having an increasingly personal touch about it. Even the expected denouement still has a natural quality about it even from its notable silly and somber elements. The craft contributions (including the make-up artists) of Levine's crew abet the moods of someone like an ordinary young man facing a dire situation. It's Gordon-Levitt who harnesses blind sidedness and calm into someone multi-layered who's able to distill something upbeat and vibrant even with Adam's prospects.