Movie Review: Funny People
Prinz Lee wrote this review 5 years and 5 months ago
Written July 31, 09
Like any talented filmmaker, Judd Apatow is slowly maturing. The subject matter of his new film 'Funny People' may involve the seemingly last days of a successful comic suffering from a fatal disease, but Apatow's artistic talent is growing in more ways than one. Though a bit long winded, the comedy not only features serious thematic material, but a mature performance from star Adam Sandler – who has made quite a successful career playing anything but mature – as well as some care taken with the directing manner of Apatow, who actually managed to get Spielberg's cinematographer Janusz Kaminski to shoot the picture. Though it veers off track at times and runs a tad too long, 'Funny People' is one of the better films in a summer filled with so much artificiality that includes, alien robots, wizards, spaceships, mutants and fashion journalists.
Sandler has made bold attempts at drama before – successfully with P.T. Anderson's 'Punch Drunk Love' and not so successfully with James L. Brooks 'Spanglish'. The quality of his performance falls just nicely in the middle as George Simmons, a forty-something comic who has had a monumental career making movies even sillier than the work the real Sandler is known for. Despite his success, he's not a happy person because looking past that praise and accolades he knows that people only want to be in the company of his fame rather than the real him. George's bitter mood goes from bad to worse when a medical check-up reveals he has a rare form of cancer that at this point can not be treated successfully.
As he begins to explore the nature of his life and his humor, he catches the act of aspiring comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), who can only dream of becoming another George Simmons. Having lost a tremendous amount of weight for his upcoming 'Green Hornet' film, Rogen looks nothing like the rising schlub-like star we're all familiar with. It's an appearance that's even remarked upon by roommates and fellow comedians Leo (Jonah Hill) and Mark (Jason Schawartzman), star of a successful “Welcome Back Kotter' type sitcom who feel George's weight loss makes him less funny. The banter between these three which ranges from the boundaries of hitting on a mutual crushes to their stand-up styles is one of the highlights of the picture. Maybe it's the young comic's energy or the fact that he resembles a younger version of himself, but George takes a liking to Ira and is soon offering him a job as a personal assistant doing everything from writing jokes to literally talking him to sleep at night. Ira is a young naive boy in his new mentor's world and in one scene his “by gosh” mentality only causes a prospective one night stand to lose interest, leaving George with the opportunity to swoop her into his bedroom.
In addition to serving as George's assistant, Ira gets a chance to be his opening act during a pseudo farewell tour and in time his own material improves as George's health declines. The rise of one comic and the slow descent of another would make both great comedy and drama, except midway through the picture, George's disease goes into remission. Though he's happy with the good news, he's unsure of how former girlfriend Laura (Leslie Mann) will react since she's just started talking to him again. Sandler and Mann actually seem compatible and believable as former flames since Sandler's humor mirrors that of his long time real life best friend Apatow who also happens to be her real husband. The fact that Apatow makes use of home video and talent reels featuring younger versions of both actors only adds to the depth of their characters.
Apatow also makes fine use of their real life daughters Maude and Iris (their comedic timing must be inherited), who play Laura's children in the film and when George and Ira spend the day at her MarinCounty home, the picture takes an unexpected detour. Reconnecting with George seems to bring out the best and worst in Laura, who starts to consider restarting her acting career and spending less time with the two daughters she shares with an Aussie businessman she suspects of cheating. A good portion of the film's third act is spent on George and Laura reigniting the flames between them, while Ira plays with the kids and then her husband Clarke (Eric Bana) shows up. A former stand-up comic as well, Bana's unbridled enthusiasm can be pretty humorous at times, even though Apatow has poorly written the role. He only warms to George because he's still under the assumption the man is dying and when that bubble bursts as well as the revelation of Laura's conflicted feelings, all hell breaks loose. A major problem is that soon after learning he's no longer sick, George goes back to being the not-so-nice guy that broke Laura's heart when he cheated on her all those years ago.
Though the third act is problematic, 'Funny People' works when Sandler and Rogan are either interacting humorously or discussing gag material and the nature of comedy. One of the picture's most memorable scenes involves George walking into a bar filled with familiar comics like Dave Attell, Ray Romano and even rapper Eminem that's more entertaining than the dramatic turns in the story. Nevertheless, Apatow has once again fashioned a solid feature that not only demonstrates his maturity as a filmmaker, but stands independent of his previous and successful work.