*** (out of 5)
July 31, 2009
Adam Sandler as GEORGE SIMMONS
Seth Rogen as IRA WRIGHT
Leslie Mann as LAURA
Eric Bana as CLARKE
Jonah Hill as LEO KOENIG
Jason Schwartzman as MARK TAYLOR JACKSON
Directed by: Judd Apatow
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Probably the most aggravating thing about the marketing campaign for “Funny People” is the declaration that it’s “the third film from Judd Apatow.” I know that this is his third time as the actual director, but when your name has become synonymous with a certain style of filmmaking, this really doesn’t make sense.
With this “third film” nonsense, “Funny People” has a lot to live up to. I enjoyed both “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” However, “Funny People” is another type of film entirely. It’s not a raunchy comedy. It’s not a film of over-the-top hilarity. In fact, it’s really not a comedy at all, but rather a drama with a lot of funny lines in it.
“Funny People” stars Adam Sandler as a version of himself, a comedian named George Simmons who has had wild Hollywood success but is utterly alone. He has alienated his family and the only woman he has ever loved. When he learns he has a rare form of leukemia, he takes a young comedian named Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) under his wing as his assistant, and reluctantly becomes his friend.
Part of the film’s catch is its Achilles’ heel. The portrayal of celebrities is raw and honest. While most people are starstruck by fame, they (and the subjects themselves) quickly forget that celebrities are just regular people who have a lot of money and exposure. They aren’t the heroes we see in the movies, and they are loaded with flaws.
The character of George is almost too flawed. In fact, he’s a royal ass, and at times it is very hard to feel for him. Sandler does a fine job acting, but we’ve seen the guy act before. Rogen also delivers in the acting department, but his character is a bit of a tool, which is realistic but at times unappealing. After all is said and done, “Funny People” really bummed me out… and the cancer subplot had the least effect on this.
Still, this is about as funny as you can make cancer, so that’s an accomplishment.
While I can’t speak for Apatow as a person, his cinematic ego comes through in this film, giving him a bit of a George Simmons quality as a director. The film is loaded with celebrity cameos, which can be fun, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that Apatow was using the movie as a way to brag to the rest of the world about how many famous people he knows.
In addition, the use of his real-life children as his real-life wife Leslie Mann’s kids in the film borderlines on gratuitous. Sure, they were cute in “Knocked Up,” but he basically hands his older daughter a five minute performance spotlight in the film. Yeah, she’s cute, and she can sing, but isn’t it enough that I have to watch my own friends’ and family’s rugrats in school performances and community theater?
“Funny People” does have its moments, but it runs mercilessly long and is very awkwardly plotted. Rather than a straightforward comedy like “Knocked Up” or “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Funny People” plays out like a Jim Jarmusch film about stand-up comics with lots of celebrity cameos, some classic zingers and a cancer storyline.
With all that said, the film does have some brilliant comedic moments. The one-liners, out-of-left-field punch lines and irreverent revelations of the entertainment industry are quite brilliant. And much like Kevin Smith does, Apatow has populated the film with actors who are experts at delivering his dialogue. As an added bonus, you get a terrifying look at a slate of story-within-a-story Adam Sandler comedies that you will thank the Holy Lord they have never really made.
“Funny People” is very funny, but it struggles with the people aspect. It’s definitely worth a look, but you’ll have to be a bit forgiving with this one.