Cancer may be no laughing matter, but having battled ‘the Big C’ and won, screenwriter Will Reiser (Da Ali G Show) clearly sees no need to tread on eggshells around it.
Based on his own experience, 50/50 stars the ever-impressive Gordon-Levitt as Adam, a Seattle radio researcher whose only problems appear to be a lack of sex with his girlfriend Rachael (Dallas Howard), getting to work on time – thanks to his irresponsible pal Kyle (Rogen) - and a bit of back trouble.
Until, however, a trip to the hospital reveals the latter as rather more serious. Adam has a malignant neurofibroma-sarcoma schwannoma. Which is deadly serious.
But while the seriousness of Adam’s condition is never in doubt, Reiser and director Jonathan Levine (of indie gem The Wackness) treat it with a combination of wit, compassion and defiance that keeps the mood as upbeat as possible – given the circumstances.
“The more syllables it has, the worse it is,” jokes prostate patient Mitch (Matt Frewer) as he and Adam share post-chemo chat - and hash macaroons - with fellow sufferer Alan (Philip Baker Hall).
It’s this morbid humour, undiluted by mawkishness or cloying sentiment, that helps everyone through Adam’s ordeal. Not least himself. On trying to break the news to his mother Diane (Huston) gently, Adam opens with “Have you ever seen Terms of Endearment?”
Even his cute but callow trainee counsellor Kate (Up In The Air’s Kendrick) turns out to be less strait-laced than she seems.
Unsurprisingly, the most outrageous one-liners go to professional oik Rogen who, while adding yet another boorish loudmouth to his CV, is perfectly cast as the best friend who is forever looking to turn Adam’s affliction to their – or at least his - sexual advantage.
The dark periods are equally well handled. While Adam rarely complains, his sense of loneliness and frustration are keenly felt and crystallised by an act of betrayal which finds no schmaltzy resolution. And the fear passing between he and Diane in what could be their last few moments together is palpable.
It may be a marketing nightmare, but as examinations of mortality go, few come funnier, wiser or more astutely acted.
Laughter, it seems, is still the best medicine.