Director: Judd Apatow
Screenplay: Judd Apatow
Starring: Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Seth Rogan, Johna Hill, Jason Schwartzman
The marketing for funny people is all wrong. Much like the confused all action trailer/T.V Spots of box office hit Inglourious Basterds, if your expecting a film filled to the brim with belly laughs, you may be better off with The Hangover or Bruno. Apatow however seems to be on his way to be a more juvenile John Hughes of his generation. His films as a director (and a few of the many he's produced) deal with grand themes that confront a generation of man-children with a Peter Pan complex.
The 40 Year old virgin dealt with a man whose embraced more comics and games than girlfriends. Knocked Up is about a young man who must deal with fatherhood before his time. Funny People is about morality and time lost to careless and selfish endeavours. Yes, it's wrapped around a structure of dick and fart jokes but that's what it's really about.
The most interesting thing about this for me is how personal these films are, in particular Funny People. The film starts with home footage of our main character George Simmons (Sandler) making prank calls to unsuspecting folk. This is real footage of a young Sandler who used to live with Apatow (who can be seen by eagle-eyed viewers in the video cracking up). Those who have been boning up on the writer/director/producer, can clearly see that everyone in the film have been taken from real comedians that Apatow knows and loves and Sandler takes centre stage.
Almost playing himself Sandler has never been better. Those who hate his usual sthick may find something of interest here he brings across a semi-tragic performance while raining in the dopey, rage filled characters he's well known for. Some of the performance reminds me of comedians of the past I've loved like Kenneth Williams or Peter Sellers. Comedians who could bring a crowd of people to tears of laughter, but never appeared to be happy themselves. Comedian's who are angry at themselves for being a success (or sell-outs) but never the less would sign up for the next piece of crap thrown their way. For Sandler to look so deeply inside himself for this performance is not only brave, but immensely watchable.
Other reviews I've read and heard have criticised the lack of arc by the Simmons character, stating that he doesn't learn anything. In watching the film I realise that in fact he does but his self-realisation is a small one left until the last scene of the film. I rather this then the film's characters flipping suddenly and forgetting who they were at the beginning of the movie.
The secondary characters have their moments and while they are slightly flat, they are extremely funny. A whole second film could have been created out of the roommate trio of Jonha Hill, Seth Rogan and Jason Schwartzman and all three have great chemistry with each other. Eric Bana (ex-stand up himself) almost comes in too late to give us a taste of his actual accent (I'm sure there people out there that still believe he's American). Bana actually helps pick up the films second half which is lopsided against the stronger first half. Apatow's wife Leslie Mann also hold her own in the second half of the movie as Simmons "one who got away" and her decision at the end of the film is wonderfully truthful and keeps the films integrity.
The main issue I had with Funny People is that it's way too long and a little too schizophrenic for it's own good. The characters aren't the most lovable people in the world (in fact the egos on them are huge) so when the film does a 180 half way and asks us to try and feel sorry for some of these guys....it's extremely difficult. In fact the only person I could truly sympathize with is Rogan's Ira character but even then, the reason why he starts to work for George is underhanded.
With this said, the film reminded me of The Wrestler, in which I was allowed to observe something I have an interest in (stand up comedy) from a completely different point of view. I found the film laugh out loud funny for the most part and full of quick one liners that made Apatow's earlier films so popular. The line that got me is said by rapper/producer Rza, playing a deli clerk who is working with Ira. "Seinfield's my man, that boy Kramer, he's my Nigga." If you don't see why I was rolling down the isle after he said that...this film is not for you.