Review: Funny People

Minus the gratuitous male genitalia jokes, “Funny People” is about as far from anything Judd Apatow has directed or produced since he hit it big with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Finally collaborating with longtime friend Adam Sandler, Apatow takes the creative license that his reputation as comedic master of the decade has afforded him and makes a more serious film about funny people. But with more seriousness, the funniness must be more effective and that’s hard in an unprecedented 146-minute-long comedy just sort of about a comedian’s life.

Sandler plays himself in the form of a fictional character named George Simmons, a comedian who hit it big, made some ridiculous movies and now is re-evaluating himself in the face of news that he has a rare form of leukemia. Returning to his stand-up roots, he discovers a promising but penniless comedian named Ira (Seth Rogen) living in his friend’s (Jason Schwartzman) apartment with his buddy, fellow comedian Leo (Jonah Hill). George pays Ira to write him some jokes and be his assistant, but he’s really paying him to keep him company as he tries to right some of the mistakes he made in life.

Anyone expecting the laugh fest with a surprising sentimental touch that Apatow delivered in “Virgin” and “Knocked Up” will find that it’s more of a full-on sentimental groping. The comedy that we are so accustomed to from the likes of Sandler, Rogen and Hill is either peppered in or concentrated into segments as opposed to the dominating force throughout the film.

There’s no question this was a personal endeavor for Apatow and Sandler. Considering Apatow’s roots in comedy clubs and his best friend and wife (Leslie Mann, who plays “the girl that got away” love interest) playing opposite each other — not to mention casting his kids, this was sort of a way for Apatow to reflect on what he does for a living. In that sense, “Funny People” holds some promise. No one has really made a film looking at comedy instead of just being one. This film does it and in a very realistic context too, appearing as if it could very well be taking place today in Hollywood.

But as its own comedy, “Funny People” just isn’t as funny as we’d like. There are a lot of great funny moments, but the humor loses effectiveness because the movie is just strung- together subplots too numerous to name. Simmons finding out he’s dying doesn’t focus the film, it just sort of plays a role in everything he does and all his relationships and the other sub-relationships of the people around him such as Ira. There’s no tension — even if the early trailers hadn’t indeed revealed that he doesn’t die. There’s no real sense that he’s going on any sort of emotional journey with this shocking news or that he’s really going to learn something from it.

“Funny People” has plenty of funny people and they say funny things, but it’s a film that’s too unfocused to keep anyone’s attention for nearly two and a half hours. It almost feels like two films: one about stand-up and the other about a comedian trying to make things right with an old flame. Describing it as one film is much harder. It’s a reflection on what it’s like to be a comedian fading away and coming to terms with life decisions that doesn’t really arrive at any clear answers. Apatow’s writing here is just too loose, though his directing is excellent. I definitely believe “Funny People” could have been something special, but we’ll never know.

Released: 31 July 2009


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