REVIEW: Funny People

31 07 2009

Funny People” is a solid effort by director/screenwriter Judd Apatow, but it falls just short of what it hopes to accomplish: a perfect blend of comedy and human drama that is both touching and amusing.  I walked out of the theater just thinking about all the potential it had, and I nailed the main factor as to why it paled in comparison to Apatow’s previous features, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and the uproarious “Knocked Up.”  It loses the sense of realism and relatability that Apatow nails so brilliantly.  The story concerns itself with comedians, one a superstar, one at the cusp of stardom, and several right underneath that cusp.  These people have a funny exterior, but when you peel back the layers, they are vulnerable, troubled, and quite dark.  It is harder to identify with these people because their problems are so detached from our own, as supposed to previous Apatow characters like the slacker, the virgin, the control freak, and many other “normal people.”

If you saw the first trailer for the movie, you know just about all there is to know about the plot.  George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a lonely comedian diagnosed with a terrible disease and prepares himself for death, mainly by trying to form a true human relationship with another comedian, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen).  But when he appears to be cured, he tries to reclaim what he has lost in his life, mainly Laura (Leslie Mann), an old girlfriend who he let slip away.  Sprinkle in a ripped Australian husband for Laura (Eric Bana), a few of Ira’s friends trying to make it big (Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman), a quirky love interest for Ira (Aubrey Plaza), and a few celebrity cameos, and you have “Funny People” in essence.

The film has a running time of nearly 2 1/2 hours, but surprisingly, there is never a dull moment.  Some great acting turns help to overcome a fairly lackluster script.   Adam Sandler gives a very nuanced performance as George Simmons, a character we are led to believe is not too far removed from himself.  While it still has some of Sandler’s trademark shtick and ridiculous voices, he takes us on an emotional roller-coaster ride and doesn’t let us off until the conclusion of the movie.  The film tries so hard to really show that it has heart, and Sandler is the only actor who really seems to deliver on that front.  That being said, he also shows the darker side of fame better than anyone in recent memory.

Leslie Mann, the scene stealer in “Knocked Up,” is pitch-perfect as always.  She just lights up the screen and fills it with a bubbly charm that cannot be resisted.  Unfortunately, she really only pops up for the second half of the movie.  Mann and Sandler have irresistible chemistry together, which is what really helped make the second half shine.  Although the script lacks relatability, Mann is the real human connection in this movie.

Seth Rogen, however, seems out of place in a role where he is not a lazy slacker or a pothead.  Ira is written to be a very serious funny person, and Rogen doesn’t quite nail it.  His scenes with Sandler play out as a comic man/straight man routine, which is not what I think it was intended to be.  Ira does link the movie to a very funny subplot with his roommates, Jason Schwartzman as a mediocre TV actor and Jonah Hill as another struggling comedian.  Hill is the only person who is consistently funny throughout the whole movie, but unfortunately, he and Schwartzman are not given the screen time that they deserve.  Neither is Aubrey Plaza as Daisy, Ira’s love interest.  The shame is that she really is an interesting character, but the script botches she and Ira’s relationship.  Their story is only one of many loose ends not tied up at the end of the movie.

This review might sound particularly scathing, but I really did enjoy the movie.  After delivering “Knocked Up,” which is in my mind one of the funniest movies ever made, I had such high expectations that this could never have possibly exceeded.  It is uproariously funny, although sometimes it goes a little over the top on the vulgar humor, which I felt Apatow did almost as an apology for the dramatic elements of the movie.  The performances by Mann and Sandler are ones for the ages, and “Funny People” makes for a good time at the movies – just don’t expect “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” or “Knocked Up.”  B+ / 3stars

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5 responses

31 07 2009
James D.

Good review!

11 08 2009
Andrew

You nailed this one.

12 08 2009
danjewish

I hated this movie, but I agree with you that Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman are the highlights. Also, good point about the Daisy character. She was one of the more interesting characters in a sea of lackluster ones.

12 08 2009
Andrew

Danjewish,
why you hating on the Apatow?

14 07 2010
CMrok93

It’s funny in the first act, then it goes on to become too serious, but still very very funny. Check out my review here: http://dtmmr.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/funny-people-2009-2/ Nice Review!

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