It's the Rogen-Goldberg touch, with the duo's characteristic Superbad mash of the sweet and the bracingly coarse, that sells this unusual downer/upper of a life-and-death comedy.
Neither the actor nor the filmmakers can get under Adam's skin, despite all the close-ups and the moodily shot scenes filled with the kind of movie silence that feels more like the groping of an uncertain screenwriter than of a man facing his mortality.
Too pat and contrived to be the Oscar bell-ringer early reports have claimed, "50/50'' is most affecting when it shows callow young dudes struggling to come to terms with the ultimate party crasher.
This nervy film avoids being blatantly "life-affirming" or "feel-good," helping it earn its tears and laughs. The premise covers the first of those. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen merge it with the second.
I admire the audacity of the script, which was written by Will Reiser from personal experience, and I laughed in most of the right places, as people in Adam's life struggle, often absurdly, to say or do the right thing.
Emotionally honest even when it's going for big laughs and filled with lived-in visual detail, it's raunchy and touching without ever being crude or mawkish, a small, sharp comic jewel with a big heart.
Still, it's Gordon-Levitt's choices that continue to impress. Sure, he owned one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in last summer's blockbuster Inception. But the actor remains drawn to profoundly human-scale hurts and quiet triumphs.
The fear, anger, and despair of terminal illness barely pierce the movie's easygoing vibe, which becomes something of a problem in the second half, but for the most part this is fresh, sincere, and inquisitive.