Cancer comedy 50/50 as common as a cold

Joseph Gordon-Levitt doesn't cure 50/50's forgettable symptoms

Young movie producer Will Reiser gave the cheeky title I'm With Cancer to his semi-autobiographical screenplay about his bout with life-or-illness. The cancer comedy makes it to the big screen under the vague name 50/50, which is just as well. I'm With Cancer suggests a more provocative film than the tame but pleasant 50/50 turns out to be.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Adam Lerner, a 27-year-old producer at a Seattle NPR affiliate who's diagnosed with a serious form of spinal cancer and given a 50 percent chance of survival. His support system proves unready to face such a grim predicament, especially his girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), a career-minded painter more concerned with an upcoming art opening than Adam's chemo sessions. Anna Kendrick plays a novice psychological counselor who awkwardly tries to console him, while Anjelica Huston plays his too-worried mother.

His buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen) delivers profane pep talks without facing the prospect of Adam's demise. The gravel-voiced actor co-produced the film, which at times unfolds like a mixtape of Rogen's greatest hits. Director Jonathan Levine treats a scene of Adam shaving his head like comedic gold comparable to chest-waxing the 40-Year-Old Virgin. Knocked Up's clubbing scenes come to mind when Kyle coaches Adam on how to use his illness to pick up women. Rogen even played another cancer patient's best pal in Funny People.

Gordon-Levitt movingly conveys Adam's existential crisis with a heaviness that seems to settle over his features and posture when he grapples with bad news. As a naturally cautious young man, his illness inspires him to stick up for himself, although the film's rage at Rachael flirts with misogyny. Despite Gordon-Levitt's promise as a rising actor, he seems to make his choices based on the juiciness of his role, with less regard for the movie's overall quality.

500 Days of Summer gave Gordon-Levitt the chance to anchor a musical number, and 50/50 presents him with tearjerking scenes as a martyr to his sickness, with red-rimmed eyes and pale complexion. Both films prove too pat and conventional to stick in the memory. Despite Gordon-Levitt's soft-spoken magnetism, his performance doesn't provide a cure for a common movie.