Review: Don’t shave off ‘50/50’

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Trailers for Jonathan Levine’s “50/50” give away many of the film’s best jokes and the entire plot.

Still, the film, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen and Anna Kendrick, offers laughs, some discomfort and tears.

The film opens with protagonist Adam (Gordon-Levitt) running around what immediately strikes as downtown West Coast City. Of course, deciphering which West Coast city makes up the story’s setting takes a while.

The movie doesn’t give away the city’s most popular landmark and, instead, offers hints at which city it could be.

During the run, Adam stops and grabs his back. The scene, at first, seems comedic, but no one in the audience verbally laughed.

Adam and Kyle (Rogen) work at a radio station, and an orange The Stranger sticker shines in one of their officemates cubicles. Adam, who doesn’t drive, relates his pain to Kyle, as the two are en route to work one morning.

And, of course, when Adam visits a doctor, he learns that he has an unpronounceable tumor in his back. Thus begins chemotherapy.

Much of the film’s comedy takes place during Adam’s chemo sessions, which seem reminiscent of “That ‘70s Show”’s basement scenes — you know what I’m talking about.

Adam meets these old guys, who share their marijuana-filled macaroons with him and engulf him into their group.

As a part of his treatment, Adam visits a psychologist, Katherine (Kendrick). No surprise: Academy Award-nominated Kendrick kills it in this film. She stutters, she uses a different tone of voice than expected from her “Up in the Air” role and she competes with Gordon-Levitt as the movie’s most vulnerable character.

But don’t let scene-stealin’ Kendrick distract from the other actors. Anjelica Houston — who plays Adam’s mom, Diane — provides such a real-life performance, and she and Kendrick easily make the film deeper than its surface Rogen-Gordon-Levitt comedy.

A brief mention goes to Adam’s awful girlfriend, played by Bryce Dallas-Howard. While it was great to see Dallas-Howard in an out-of-a-suspense-thriller setting, she hardly adds any charisma, which, admittedly, disappoints.

As mentioned earlier, most of the funniest jokes in Will Reiser’s screenplay barely satisfy in the actual film-viewing. However, the film’s best joke comes when Adam and Kyle are walking Adam’s girlfriend-given new dog, a very adorable greyhound. Seriously, those eyes enlarge to a greater degree than Puss in Boots’.

The film made great use of capturing its characters in mirrors. Often through handheld camera shots — especially during the Adam-shaves-his-head scene — the film shows us the uneasiness of dealing with cancer, a break up and family tension.

Beautiful shots of clouds over buildings on hills please. Seattle as the film’s setting — if you didn’t guess from The Stranger bumper sticker — brings about an ambiguous season that distracts the audience from completely guessing the film’s tone and climax.

And while the film slows down a bit as the comedy lessens and drama heightens, it ends in such a comforting way that merits subsequent viewings and a recommendation to a friend or two.