50/50 (Rated R for ongoing profanity, some vulgar sexual dialogues, brief sex): Teachers of writing tell budding authors to write what they know about. Will Reiser, who survived a bout with cancer while still in his 20s, found the perfect subject for his first major film script. Juggling serious drama with comic overtones, his film introduces us to a youthful, normally taciturn Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his gross-out buddy Kyle (Reiser's real life friend Seth Rogan) in their quest for - what else, with Rogan on hand - sex & women. Kyle, as is usual in situations like this, feels that Adam could get more pleasure from his live-in girlfriend Rachael (over-the-top Bryce Dallas Howard) if he was more aggressive, but easy-going Adam is content with his status quo - until he finds that he has a rare form of spinal cancer - and that changes everything.
His girlfriend can't handle the issue, his mother (domineering Anjelica Huston) stresses out, a budding therapist Katherine (pretty, earnest Anna Kendrick with her mouthful of blindingly bright teeth) bends over backwards in her considerate but inept freshness, while Kyle pushes for Adam to use his ailment as modus operandi for hot dates among sympathetic women. Through all this and incidental experiences with two older men also undergoing similar treatment, Adam is pushed into a surprising outburst of rage (matched only by the knight in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" when he learns the truth about the devil), and that's where the film turns into almost morbid drama in an operating room.
During the first part of the film, while director Jonathan Levine attempts, and barely succeeds at, the introduction of his characters, the tone is just this side of artificial - in effect, actually riding on sit-com phoniness. As the film darkens, and the characters take on a modicum of sincerity, he seems on firmer ground, even to the point of arousing sympathy for his people regardless their earlier bromidic personae.
Special praise goes to Gordon-Levitt, who carries the brunt of the film and whose reactive emotions run believably from a broad, gentle, thinly smiling reticence to sudden rage; and to Anjelica Huston, who can flesh out a slight role to provide, at first, the stereotypical possessive mother, and then, when she discovers his need for self help, true sympathy for her son. Abetting is Terry Stacey's sure, unobtrusive photography with the use of available light from bright street scenes to daark, deeply dramatic Rembrandt lighting in some close-ups - all gently held together with unobtrusive popular music of Michael Ciacchino's choices.
Most intrusive, however, is Levine's uneven direction and - most irritating of all - Rogan, whose vain attempts to bring humor & sympathy into a role he plays uncomfortably, results instead in portraying (as he usually does) a lout with the brains of a pea and the nerve of a gnat attacking a B-29 - here thrusting himself overbearingly into each scene with a Wallace Beery throaty cackle & awkward smirk. His style, even toned down for this role, is badly intrusive and weighs down the effect of every scene as he obviously improvises in the manner which has brought him popular attention. With dozens of other actors who could better complement buddy Adam, friend of the writer or not, Rogan does not belong in this film. (Grade: C+)