director: Jonathan Levine; screenwriter: Will Reiser; cinematographer: Terry Stacey; editor: Zene Baker; music: Michael Giacchino; cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Adam), Seth Rogen (Kyle), Anna Kendrick (Katherine), Bryce Dallas Howard (Rachael), Anjelica Huston(Diane), Philip Baker Hall (Alan), Serge Houde (Richard), Matt Frewer (Mitch); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Evan Goldberg/Seth Rogen/Ben Karlin; Summit Entertainment; 2011)

Upbeat and comical despite realistically depicting what it’s like to know you have only a 50/50 chance of surviving a rare cancer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The bromance, about a cancer patient nurtured by his coarse but loyal friend, is amazingly upbeat and comical despite realistically depicting what it’s like to know you have only a 50/50 chance of surviving a rare cancer. Director Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”)gets the most out of this inspirational story, that’s based on writer Will Reiser’s own experiences with surviving spinal cancer.

The 27-year-old Adam Lerner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works at a public radio station as a producer and lives in a house in Seattle with his aspiring abstract artist girlfriend Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard). Kyle (Seth Rogen), Adam’s colleague at the radio station and best pal, is a fast talker who mixes tenderness and vulgarity into almost every conversation. The friend berates Adam for letting his honey treat him so sexually cold, and urges him to go on the prowl with him for more lively chicks.

Adam learns he has a malignant spinal tumor and must undergo chemotherapy, which changes his outlook on life, in an instant, as he fights for survival by going through the painful treatment. Fortunately at the chemotherapy clinic he bonds with the crusty older cancer patients Alan ( Philip Baker Hall) and Mitch (Matt Frewer), who supply him with cookies filled with weed and also provide good company by keeping up his spirits. Unfortunately Rachael is overwhelmed and can’t commit to helping her dependent boyfriend, but doesn’t want to abandon the decent Adam even if she’s not up to caring for him–so she stays on, but cheats on him with other men. While Adam’s mom (Anjelica Huston) wants to take care of him full time, just like she cares for his severely dementia-ridden father, but he rejects her smothering love and chooses not answering her calls. When Adam’s 24-year-old inexperienced hospital therapist Katherine (Anna Kendrick) almost loses him with her awkward professional ways, by accident they bond outside the workplace and become romantically linked.

Gordon-Levitt makes a good stand-in for the writer, as someone you care about; while Rogen plays his usual signature role and hits all the right spots giving the pic the comedy moments it needed so it wouldn’t slide into sentimentality. Huston plays the cliched pushy Jewish mom, but she’s good at it and overcomes her cartoonish depiction by showing she really cares about her son. Even in a small throwaway role, Ms. Huston excels. But the characters played by Howard and Kendrick never seem to ring true. It never worked for me making one such an unlikely villain and the other such an unlikely heroine. I blame the script and not the thesps for the their hollow characters being dead spots in the storyline, but I applaud the filmmaker for not taking the dramedy into the superficiality of a benign TV situation comedy–something a less talented director might have done.