This Oscar season, PG-13 for Ugly Cast will be flipping a cordial bird to the arbitrary practice of rank-ordering movies. Instead, we will highlight a handful of Movie Things We Loved, with no pretense of objectivity or internal consistency. Deal with it.
50/50 isn’t really a cancer comedy. It’s a cancer drama that’s been treated with a heavy dose of Seth Rogen.
To be fair, there are other laughs. Anna Kendrick and Joseph Gordon-Levitt share some cute moments. And a couple of weed-smoking elderly patients lighten the mood. But on the whole, 50/50 grapples with the dark implications of a young man’s cancer diagnosis – the devastated mother, the clueless employer, the numbing vision of a rapidly dwindling future. And the film’s only weapon against nihilism is a vulgar cherub named Seth Rogen.
Rogen spends the movie horny, hungry, and high. He’s a gravel-voiced human id, a chubby bundle of oversized appetites. And in a way I can’t quite express or pinpoint, his excesses are the perfect antidote to cancer, which shuts down those bodily appetites, frustrates its victims, instills despair. Rogen – irrepressible and magnetic and genuinely funny – manages to mock cancer without mocking cancer patients.
I also love that this is the second movie in his career where Rogen saves the day by proving that he is literate. In Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl is won over when he skims some baby books, and in 50/50, Gordon-Levitt is touched to see that Rogen has a well-marked copy of a manual about helping friends with cancer. It’s a cliché, but an honest one: Nothing gives us hope like seeing Seth Rogen defy the odds and actually manage to read printed text.