Funny People (2009)- Dir. Judd Apatow- 146 min- USA
Funny People is Judd Apatow’s third movie in the director’s chair. His previous movies, 40-Year-Old Virgin & Knocked Up, were undoubtedly financial successes. Oh, and hilarious too. He’s produced and/ or co-written a long string of mostly successful comedies, beginning in 2004 with Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, as a producer. Though I will always love and remember him for his two major ventures into the television world, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared (two of the best one-season shows in my opinion). With all that, he’s helped launch the careers of many comedians that we see today (Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Segal, Paul Rudd, etc.)
Ok, I’ll get down from building my Judd Apatow worship idol. He’s done some bad ones too (Drillbit Taylor, really?!), but I’ll say from the start that this film isn’t one of them.
Funny People stars Apatow’s former roommate, Adam Sandler as big-time movie comedian, George Harrison. Teaming up with Sandler is Apatow vet, Seth Rogen as George’s assistant, Ira Wright. While most will remember his starting role in Knocked Up, I will never forget that he was on this:
While the title and lead actors may lead you to believe that you’ll be walking into another light-hearted laugh riot, the opening scene sets the stage for what this really is: a dark comedy…at least in the first half. You learn that the wildly wealthy and famous comedian has developed a rare form of leukemia. The type of treatment his doctors have chosen only has an 8% chance of success. While the public sees George in his comedic front, behind the scenes you see a darker version. His loneliness and depression are accelerated once he learns of his condition. He ventures back out to the stand-up scene where he meets Ira. After seeing Ira burn him on stage regarding his depressed state, George hires Ira to be his assistant and writer.
Sandler and Rogen’s on-screen chemistry becomes the comedy anchor during the most emotional parts of the film. That’s the difficultly with dark comedies for some people, finding the humor out of tragedy (which some would say is when comedy is needed the most). But if you know any comedians in real life, many come from from very checkered, dark pasts filled with emotions and traumatizing experiences. How else are you supposed to tap into the most comedic parts of life without experiencing the most tragic?
Which leads to the other strength of this film: the behind-the-scenes feel of the stand-up comedy world. You get an insight which allows the audience to have a moment of clarity. Comedians aren’t funny all the time, they have many layers…like all of us. We get to see many well-known comedians (and a disgruntled Eminem) away from the stage and interacting in everyday life. The honesty portrayed can only come from folks who have first hand experience.
I thought this was going to be another movie where most of the good jokes were in the previews, but they have some gems saved for the film (What if Tom from myspace fought Craig from craigslist?) Again, it’s the dynamic of the two main characters which makes watching a grown man go through the daily confrontation with death somehow humorous. The humor is needed in order for George and Ira to not completely break down and surrender to the seemingly inevitable conclusion.
I always love seeing well-known comedians in more serious roles (one of my favs being Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Sandler has moved away from his earlier slapstick roles into more serious ones, displaying the range of his acting ability. I’m glad he’s done it, while still finding room here and there to be funny.
Oh, and the RZA and Tom from myspace makes appearances. Just thought that was worth a mention.
What I didn’t like? Apatow tries to tell too many stories within the limitation of this one (long) film. George’s supposed redemption with the former love of his life takes the movie away from the main plot line and most dynamic relationship (George & Ira). Yes, you could say that is used to show that George really hasn’t changed and is back to his old ways. But I think this could have been done in a much shorter way that doesn’t veer the direction of the movie. Plus, watching George try and break up a family feels just wrong and uncomfortable. Maybe that’s what they wanted?
The interaction between Ira and his roommates was hilarious, but I feel didn’t fit into the overall plot. It could be its own movie. Ira’s romantic story line wasn’t really needed. I don’t know, I think I’m just a fan of keeping things simple and not cluttered (in movies at least).
Overall: It was a good film that makes you feel uncomfortable. They picked the right actors who gave great performances. It ran longer than I liked, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to watch it. Just remember: it’s not really a ‘comedy’. If you remember that, you shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s like life: not everything can be funny all the time. Appropriate title I think.
My rating system (yes, kinda confusing, still trying to figure it out): I’d rather _______
I’d rather: just watch 60% of the movie, then go watch (500) Days to really put myself in the emotional blender.
The lightsaber scale: Count Dooku (props on trying to be different, don’t know if it completely works)