It’s not funny business making people laugh. And while there are many amongst us who roll on the floor over the mention of a human organ put to its crudest use in a double entendre, the fact still remains that it is not so much the material or the originality of it which makes one laugh, but the novelty in how it’s used.Judd Apatow, a three film old director (this being his third following The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up), has consistently emerged as someone willing to push the comedy genre beyond its comfortable silly confines. Not to say that his films don’t have sex jokes and dorm-style humour, but he has managed to effortlessly sieve real characters that we laugh with and care about by the end of his films. Funny People, a film primarily about the world of comedians, would have sufficed, in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, as a series of funny gags. Which it is…but Apatow makes it about so much more.
Adam Sandler stars as George Simmons, a successful comedian who is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease. Simmons is the kind of guy you’d love to loathe. He’s driven people away from him, has been (and is) insensitive to those close to him, and because of which he finds no social support to lean on in this time of crisis. He meets young aspiring comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) during a stand-up routine, whom he hires to write material for him. We get to see the world of celebrity-dom through the eyes of the awestruck Ira, but also the loneliness that comes with fame in the bitter sardonic wit of George. Ira becomes George’s confidante, and pretty soon he has George attempting to win back the woman he once truly loved but cheated on, Laura (Leslie Mann). And while this in itself could have made a satisfying three act narrative, Apatow takes it further and questions whether people really have the capacity to change after all?
If the delineation above makes you wonder if this is a comedy or drama; that is precisely the strength of the material. The casting of Adam Sandler is an inspired one and absolutely brilliant. Sandler, who’s been associated with puerile humour and crass comedy, has always had a certain passive-aggressive tone in his buffoonery…something that was exploited in his total drama outing Punch-Drunk Love. Here too, like that film, Sandler’s funny persona belies a man gnashing his teeth and gnawing at his very ‘existence’. George Simmons is easily his best performance.The only hindrance to this otherwise solid film is its length; a comedy can be weary at three hours. But when was the last time any comedy provided you insight that celebrities don’t shun fans because they’re mean people, but because they’re worried that they might do something which will paint them as mean!