Friday, August 7, 2009

Movie Review: Funny People

Funny People *** ½
Directed by: Judd Apatow.
Written By: Judd Apatow.
Starring: Adam Sandler (George Simmons), Seth Rogen (Ira Wright), Leslie Mann (Laura), Eric Bana (Clarke), Jonah Hill (Leo Koenig), Jason Schwartzman (Mark Taylor Jackson), Aubrey Plaza (Daisy), Maude Apatow (Mable), Iris Apatow (Ingrid), RZA (Chuck), Torsten Voges (Dr. Lars).

Many comedians are very sad, empty people. They laugh to keep themselves from crying - or killing themselves. Hollywood has a long history of disturbed funny men - Fatty Arbuckle, John Belusi and Chris Farley to name but a few that ended tragically - but many of them have lead troubled lives. Judd Apatow’s Funny People is a movie that addresses this issue head on. George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a famous comic actor and stand up comedian, who lonely, and has been ever since he blew it with the girl of his dreams, Laura (Leslie Mann), a decade before. He fills the void with meaningless sex with random girls who want to sleep with a famous person. When he is diagnosed with a rare, and usually fatal, form of cancer, he discovers that he has no one to turn to for support. Abandoning his movie career, he decides to go back to doing stand up for a while. But he is too depressed to write anything funny. While at a club one night he sees Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) perform, and likes him. Ira is struggling to make ends meet. He lives on the couch of his friends Mark (Jason Schwartzman), who is the star of a terrible sitcom called “Yo, Teach!” and Leo (Jonah Hill), who also does stand up but is getting more notice than Ira. Ira still has to work part time at a deli. George decides to hire Ira - to write jokes for him, and become his personal assistant. Ira is the only person that George tells about his illness.

If you’ve made it this far into the review, you’ve probably figured out that Funny People is not quite the typical Hollywood comedy. Like the first two films in his career, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, Funny People mixes in a dose to drama with the comedy. And Funny People is in fact very funny. I laughed throughout the movie. Sandler, Rogen, Mann, Hill and Schwartzman are all wonderful comedic actors, who are capable of delivering one liners with the best of them, as well doing more character based comedy. When you add a supporting cast including Eric Bana, showing off some unexpected comedic flair and newcomer Aubrey Plaza, who is hilarious in a deadpan way, and you’ve got a huge cast capable of making you laugh at will.

But aside from the comedy - which is crude and hilarious (seriously, I believe I heard the word cock more in this movie than in any other film I have ever seen) - I do think that Funny People is perhaps Apatow’s most mature film. Unlike the other two films - where essentially the love of a good woman was enough to save two seemingly hopeless cases of arrested development - Funny People realizes that sometimes that is not enough. One of the most daring choices in the movie is to make Simmons an asshole. What’s more, he stays an asshole for the entire running time of the movie. Sandler makes him likable, because we like Sandler, but Simmons really is not that nice of a person. It is a wonderful performance by Sandler, who does not try to soften him at all and also because Sandler is not afraid of poking fun at himself. The movies that Simmons has made up to the point of his career he finds himself in, all resemble the earlier films of Sandler, and are mocked mercilessly. But Sandler, as he showed in Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me, is not afraid to deconstruct his own image. And in Funny People he does so mercilessly. In real life Sandler seems to me a fairly together person - happily married with kids who stays out of the tabloids - but Sandler has undoubtedly seen people like Simmons before (some even appear in cameos in this movie) and he nails the character.

Seth Rogen has the other major role in the film, and he too is pitch perfect. It was not that long ago that Rogen was a struggling comedian, so I think that he identifies with Ira, and he certainly gives a wonderful performance. Rogen has grown as an actor over the past few years, maturing into a complete actor - not just someone who can deliver one liners. Leslie Mann, as she did in both of Apatow’s other films, delivers a realistic performance as a woman who is at a crossroads of her life. Her marriage is not great, but things with George were hardly perfect in the past, so they probably won’t be in the future.

But although I do think that Funny People is Apatow’s most mature film, I do not think it is his best. Like his other two films, Funny People is at least 20 minutes too long, but this time it feels too long, which the other two did not. There is some sloppy storytelling, as the movie moves from one section to another too quickly. The film does not always flow smoothly. At points, you do not always believe that the characters would do what they do in the film.

But these are minor complaints to what really is one of the most enjoyable films of the year. Apatow is one of the most original voices in comedy right now. He has had a lot of imitators in the past few years, but no one does it better than he does. I cannot wait to see what he does next.

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