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MPAA Rating
Comedy, Drama
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam; Seth Rogen as Kyle; Anna Kendrick as Katherine; Bryce Dallas Howard as Rachael; Anjelica Huston as Diane
Jonathan Levine (The Wackness)
In Theaters
September 30, 2011
On Video
January 24, 2012
Bob Hoose

Adam is one of those people who waits at street corner traffic lights instead of jogging across against the orange hand. You know the kind. The nice guy who follows the rules. This twentysomething doesn't smoke, drink, do drugs, eat junk food or even cuss (all that much).

So how is it possible that he has cancer? With all the rotten, go-to-extremes, hate-filled people in the world, how is it that he's the one forced to come face-to-face with his mortality?

His family and friends guarantee him that they'll be there to support him. Which is great to hear. But, well, his mother's already maxed out caring for his Alzheimer's-stricken dad. His pretty girlfriend, Rachael, isn't really the type to carry this kind of burden. And his foul-mouthed best friend, Kyle, is too busy figuring out how they can leverage the illness into some bar-hopping sympathy sex to really be much help.

Even Adam's therapist doesn't quite seem up to the job. In fact, 24-year-old Kate is really more of a therapist-in-training and Adam's only her third patient. She's trying to get him to face up to some of the emotions he might be struggling with … but, truthfully, he's not feeling much of anything right now. He's kinda numb, if you wanna know.

Besides, he's sure he can take this day by day. It won't be that bad.

Until the chemo begins.

Positive Elements

50/50 does an excellent job of helping viewers understand some of the difficult struggles that come with a potentially terminal illness. At the same time it points out the inestimable value of loving support from (and open communication with) friends and family. And we get the message that it's often not just the victim who suffers.

For instance, in a therapy session Adam finally opens up about his annoyance with and subsequent avoidance of his mother's smothering attentions. But then Kate challenges him to look at it from his mother's point of view: "So she's got a husband who can't talk to her and a son who won't." Later, Adam makes an effort to ask his mother how she's doing, and she reveals that she's been finding great comfort in a support group for parents of children with cancer.

In another situation, Adam accidentally finds out that his seemingly oblivious pal Kyle purchased and has been seriously studying a book on helping a loved one through cancer. Adam hugs his friend and thanks him. And he tells his dad how much he loves him too. When Adam's moment of truth comes, his parents and Kyle never waver. Kate and Adam's relationship strengthens during their sessions together, and they both gain from the experience.

Spiritual Content

A pastor reads Scripture during a graveside funeral service.

Sexual Content

Kyle convinces Adam to use his disease as a means to procure sex from a pair of girls they pick up at a bar. This is an R-rated comedy, remember? We see Adam and one of the girls in bed, naked from the waist up. (We see a sexual position and motions, and partial breast nudity.) Later we spot Kyle sitting in his boxer shorts on the couch next to the other girl who's covered only by a sheet.

Adam and Rachael are on the verge of moving in together. And Kyle crudely talks about the sexual favors Rachael ought to be doing for Adam. When Adam invites his mother over to share the news about his illness, she initially believes that Rachael is pregnant.

Sexual gags range from cancer treatment aftereffects to dogs "raping" a defenseless mutt. Several women, including Adam's mother and his therapist, wear low-cut tops or dresses. Kyle spots Rachael at a public gathering embracing, kissing and having her backside fondled by somebody other than Adam.

Violent Content

Before a potentially life-threatening surgery, Adam asks to drive Kyle's jeep—even though he doesn't have a driver's license. The resulting trip involves smashing the vehicle into things in the parking lot and speeding dangerously close to oncoming traffic.

Crude or Profane Language

Over 60 f-words and 25 s-words lead the pack. We hear a handful each of "h‑‑‑," "a‑‑" and "b‑‑ch." Crude slang references male and female sexual organs. God's and Jesus' names are misused about a half-dozen times each.

Drug and Alcohol Content

We see Adam and a pair of older cancer sufferers hooked up to their intravenous chemo drips. Soon afterward they introduce Adam to his first taste of (medical) marijuana. Then we see Adam, Kyle and several others smoking joints and bongs, and downing drinks and confections laced with the drug. Adam gets stoned a few times, and once we see things from his blurry point of view as he staggers down a hallway.

Adam is high on morphine after surgery. His mother regulates her husband's meds and doles them out on several occasions.

People frequently drink beer and wine at dinners, social gatherings and at a club. Adam's boss gets drunk and weepy at a party. Kyle gets so inebriated that Adam has to help him home, where he passes out on the couch.

Other Negative Elements

Vomiting comes with the territory. And we see Adam do it. As he shaves his head with Kyle's electric clippers, Kyle makes several crude references to what part of his own anatomy he's been using them on.

Adam's doctor is shown to be emotionally detached and cynically clinical. After Rachael breaks up with Adam, he and Kyle rip and burn a piece of her artwork.


Contrary to the impression this film's trailers give, 50/50 isn't just a "cancer comedy" packed with equal-opportunity jabs at the sick and supportive alike. Writer Will Reiser's semiautobiographical story is really much more than that: a well-paced, well-acted, ultimately poignant peek at one of life's unexplainable broadsides. It's a tale that slowly builds in emotional intensity until it reaches its final indelible salute to those who struggle with serious illness. And to those who, through patient affirmation and self-sacrifice, show what it is to truly love.

But saying something isn't just a cancer comedy doesn't mean it's not one at all. And that's where it mutates into something messier. What often substitutes for humor here is foul-mouthed dialogue or crass sexual giggles—generally personified in Seth Rogen's boorish lug Kyle.

I'm sure the film's creators believed all his f-bomb-laden rants and off-color gags would relieve the tension or push away the potential for melodrama. But they failed to factor in the fact that the lowball dross seriously cheapens the powerful statements they set out to make. The truth is, if you have something that's cinematic gold and you cover it with a layer or two of filth, nobody can see the value lurking underneath. And if they discover it accidentally, they're still going to be left longing for a good scrub brush and a hose.