A heavy subject, handled expertly.

Going into 50/50, two words played repeatedly in the back of my head.

Funny People.

Funny People. Funny People. Funny People.

Funny People.

Like some sort of inescapable mantra of mediocrity, grinding away at me.

You see, Funny People was the last film that the beloved Judd Apatow directed, and he was on such a hot streak that you figured it couldn’t miss. I know I didn’t think it could. I thought Seth Rogan would be awesome, the lovely Leslie Mann would do her part, and it might even get Adam Sandler back on track (this was probably my biggest oversight).

None of those things happened, and the movie was a depressing, melancholy look at a miserable person who does miserable things to escape an existence he feels is miserable, only for it to all blow up in his face in a miserable failure. In the event you didn’t guess, it was a pretty miserable experience.

50/50 looked to be in the same vein, complete with Seth Rogan looking promising as a goofy sidekick in an otherwise bleak story. A 27-year-old man gets cancer, and this is his story. The darkest of dark comedy.

Fortunately for moviegoers, this time around the filmmakers got it right – perhaps because the man who wrote it actually lived it, and wrote the script to recount his own battle with cancer at 27. Or maybe because Rogan was allowed to be himself, but without hogging too much face time from star Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who reminds the world once more why he has become an indie and mainstream darling in recent years.

The movie gives you a short rundown on Adam (Gordon-Levitt) and his life, his friendship with Kyle (Rogan), and his relationship with Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard) before jumping right into the heavy part. Adam has cancer in his spine, and without treatment he’s going to die. Even with it, his odds are fifty-fifty at best.

What ensues is a tale of a young man faced with the toughest battle a person can face, and the steps he has to take to win it. That probably reads like harrowing drama, and at times it is, but it’s as much a tale of the relationships a man in that predicament has and the ones that prove themselves in the darkest hours.

It’s long been said that it takes a genius to play an idiot, and to that end you’d have to think Rogan is a pretty smart guy.

As Adam grows more ill and more certain he’s not going to win the fight, it gives him clarity and understanding of who he has and who is standing by him. Kyle leads that charge, and Adam’s family follows suit – despite differences with his mother (Anjelica Huston) established early on in the film. He also leans heavily on his doctor, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), a young resident who is just learning how to deal with the mental side of an illness that people often think of as mostly physical.

As stated, Gordon-Levitt is incredible as Adam. He plays the role with the eyes of a man who knows his time is coming entirely too soon, but with the determination of someone who isn’t going quietly. Once again he shows his diversity as an actor, and why he’s in such high demand in Hollywood these days.

Rogan also does his part, breaking up the tough moments with his patented vulgarity and stupid-sharp delivery. It’s long been said that it takes a genius to play an idiot, and to that end you’d have to think Rogan is a pretty smart guy. His part is well-written, and he plays it perfectly with a combination of goofiness and sobriety, as though you can feel that he’s dying with his friend but he won’t let that overtake his levity and sense of humour because Adam doesn’t have anyone else to provide those things.

In its simplest form this movie is good drama and an inspiring story, but it’s also good comedy. Gordon-Levitt and Rogan are a perfect match together, and also play their characters as well as you could ask. The writing – again, likely because this is factual and was lived by the man who wrote it – is top-notch, peppered with great dialogue and built around an engaging story.

I feel like I’ve gone soft recently, because it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed something that I didn’t like. Unfortunately for the haters out there, this one won’t break the trend. As of now it’s one of my favourite films of 2011.

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