News / USA

'50/50' Finds Comedy in Cancer

Inspired by real-life experiences of writer Will Reiser and long-time friend Seth Rogen

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (left) and Seth Rogen star in "50/50," a comedy about cancer.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (left) and Seth Rogen star in "50/50," a comedy about cancer.
Alan Silverman

Hollywood movies usually approach illness, especially cancer, with reverence and fear. But the new film, "50/50," succeeds in finding the comedy that can go along with a dire diagnosis.

Adam is in his mid-twenties, with a life of possibilities ahead of him, when he is diagnosed with a rare cancerous tumor. His best friend Kyle, at first shocked by the news, tries to help Adam find the silver lining.

"What are your odds?" Kyle asks.

"I don't know. I looked it up and it said 50-50, but that's the Internet," Adam replies.

"It's not that bad," Kyle says. "If you were a casino game, you would have the best odds."

WATCH: Penelope Poulou's related story on "50/50"

Through radiation, chemotherapy and eventually surgery, Adam discovers much about himself and his relationships, as his life takes an often absurd and darkly-comic turn.

"50/50" is drawn from the real-life experiences of writer Will Reiser, whose cancer was discovered when he was 25. He was helped through it by longtime friend Seth Rogen.

While the script they wrote together finds comedy in unexpected places, Reiser insists the jokes are not about cancer.

"We're not making fun of cancer. I'm making fun of the way in which people deal with it," Reiser says. "Seth and I didn't know how to talk about it. We would make fun of each other for not knowing how to properly deal with it. There are highs and there are lows, and sometimes the only thing you can do is just laugh and make fun of the situation."

Rogen has starred in several outrageous and successful comedies including "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year Old Virgin. In "50/50," he plays the oddly supportive best friend and admits that there is a certain shock value to combining cancer with comedy.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "50/50."
Bryce Dallas Howard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in "50/50."

"There is a school of thought that the less comedic an idea inherently is, the more creatively ambitious it is to try to make it comedic …especially without sacrificing the integrity of the subject," says Rogen. "But honestly we made this movie because it happened to us. If it hadn't, we probably wouldn't have. No part of us was saying we have to make a cancer comedy."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who stars as Adam, was attracted by the honesty of the characters navigating a sensitive situation.

"Adam ends up comforting the people in his life, maybe a little more than they comfort him. Everyone sort of freaks out and he has to be the one who says 'Are you okay? I'm sorry that this is happening to you,'" Gordon-Levitt says. "I guess when crises like this come up, you see what is underlying any relationship, whether it is his relationship with his girlfriend or his best friend or his parents or the people that he works with. It kind of brings to the surface whatever is bubbling underneath."

Directed by Jonathan Levine, the "50/50" cast features Anjelica Huston as Adam's overprotective mom; Bryce Dallas Howard as the less-than-supportive girlfriend; and Anna Kendrick is the inexperienced therapist trying to help him cope with something that is way beyond anything either of them has ever experienced.

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