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Overall Rating

Awesome: 24.53%
Worth A Look: 28.3%
Pretty Bad: 7.55%
Total Crap: 7.55%

6 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Funny People
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by Erik Childress

"Another Can't Miss From Apatow. Even If It Just Misses."
4 stars

The resulting product of Funny People is a tale of two professional comedic presences. For years Adam Sandler has been one of the top box office stars in the world, but hasn’t exactly been embraced by the critics unless he’s branched away from his comfort zone. Judd Apatow has become one of the brightest comic filmmakers and producers we’ve seen since the heydey of the ‘80s when guys like Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman were churning out one classic after another. With Funny People it’s been said that he’s shifted away from his comfort zone to explore another side of where laughter begins. Friends for years, Sandler & Apatow take on this risky proposition together and the results are rather incredible. Sandler has turned in his singularly best performance to date and Apatow has joined the ranks of other distinguished writer/directors like James L. Brooks and Cameron Crowe, considered by many to be the modern incarnation of the heydey of Billy Wilder.

Sandler plays George Simmons, once a goofy kid who liked to screw around with his friends making prank calls and is now a successful moviestar featured in some distinctly Sandler-like goofball comedies. He’s also just been diagnosed with a deadly form of leukemia bringing him to retrace the various incarnations of his professional career which at one time included stand-up comedy. Struggling wannabe comic, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) lives with fellow wannabe, Leo Koenig (Jonah Hill) and Mark Taylor Jackson (Jason Schwartzman) who has found some middling, although well-paid, success on a bad high school sitcom. Ira is still perfecting his craft, but gets an unexpected gift of inspiration when George takes the stage one night at the club and sends the audience into a laughless, depressed funk. After taking a cue to rib George’s set, Ira is surprised to find that he wants him to write some jokes for a forthcoming gig.

Ira becomes his personal assistant and is soon let in on the secret that George is sick. As a celebrity, he doesn’t want anyone to know. The everyday weight of it is too much for Ira to carry and he begs George to begin telling the people whom he’s supposed to be close to. Problem is he really has nobody but showbiz friends and is estranged from his family. The first person he thinks to call after the bad news is ex-girlfriend, Laura (Leslie Mann) whom he hurt pretty badly back in the day. She now has two kids with Australian husband, Clarke (Eric Bana), whom she knows is cheating on her on his long business trips. Laura becomes a part of George’s life again though when he opens up to her and they soon discover thier old feelings being rekindled.

Don’t let the synopsis fool you into thinking this is another maudlin examination of stand-up comics and poor, rich celebrities who are alone and miserable off their grand stages. Nor is it just another waiting-to-die rehabilitation of one’s life with forced reconciliations. One just can’t describe precisely how funny this movie is when hashing out the driving force of the plot. The interesting way in which Apatow constructs this story is like utilizing flashbacks without ever using them. The first hour depicting George’s struggle with the illness is more like the second half of a movie of this type and the second hour more like the first. Thankfully he never opts for a final act turnaround in George’s fate as that would have felt like a cheat even if it leads to perhaps the only real problem that exists in the film. But first, the laughs.

As with his previous directorial efforts, The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, Apatow’s impeccable technique for timeless references and surrounding himself with unquestionable comic talents is entirely on display here. Sometimes you can feel Rogen and the guys going offline and riffing on each other but it only adds an authenticity to the comedy since few in film have really generated the feeling of how guys relate to each other. And everyone right down to the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA (whose forgiving commentary on Michael Richards’ ill-advised stand-up choices is a highlight) and James Taylor (who almost steals the film early-on) gets their laughs. Hill and Schwartzman are both great as Rogen’s roommates. Leslie Mann is great once again and nicely expands her range beyond her juicy comic moments. Eric Bana, whom you may remember as being toasted in Knocked Up as the reason any Jew would get laid (because of Munich) actually began his career as a stand-up comic and for the first-time through a myriad of dramatic roles goes for laughs even in the less-than-sympathetic role as a philandering husband. Bana doesn’t enter the proceedings until the 100-minute mark, but to watch him narrate a rugby match and inspire maybe the film’s best line from Rogen at a dinner table is worth the wait.

Funny People is a film that should be noted for now as the best work we’ve seen from both Sandler and Rogen. This is the second time I’ve made the statement this year about Rogen after Observe and Report, giving him praise for roles where he’s been in his best and worst shape. “There’s nothing funny about a physically fit guy,” his character is told here, again showing Apatow & Co.’s bead on the current pulse after Rogen dropped a number of pounds. Rogen is not the usual smart-ass from his comfort zone. He certainly gets some timely zingers in but he is actually made to slow down his usual quick wit as a less confident version of the persona we’ve come to associate with him. Sandler, on the other hand, gets a chance to mock his own with the film clips within the film playing a man-baby and a Merman (all of which seem to co-star Elizabeth Banks.)

The last time we saw Sandler take on such a risk it was with Paul Thomas Anderson who developed Punch-Drunk Love as a dissection of the star’s atypical pugilistic anger within his comedy. As great a piece of work that was by Sandler, he gets to outshine in Funny People. In Punch-Drunk, Sandler (as great as he was) still played a version of characters he made popular in Happy Gilmore and The Wedding Singer. A more introverted one, but still one specifically designed around their traits so it wasn’t that far of a leap for him. In Funny People, Sandler has to walk the ledge of being a tolerable, self-centered jerk. We’ve never seen this side of Sandler before, even when he has branched out into more challenging fare like James L. Brooks’ underrated Spanglish and the rather painfully contrived Reign Over Me. There’s pain and uncertainty behind his eyes and a scene where he thinks he’s losing his battle early on is powerful, especially for the restraint it shows in dismissing our expectations for property damage soon to follow.

Apatow is trying to cover a lot of ground with this script and succeeds with nearly all of it. As another version of the carpe diem philosophy, there’s a nuanced subtlety in playing up that message without ever revealing it as the predominant theme. The shift between the two halfs call attention to George wanting to change his life – and the idea of second chances extend also to the characters of Laura and Clarke as well as opportunities to forgive and make amends in the characters played by Hill, Schwartzman and Aubrey Plaza (from TV’s Parks and Recreations) making a nice impression as a sarcastic comic Ira is kinda sweet on. Mark gives him a 10-day window before he makes a move which cuts to the chase that Ira would rather have 90 days to act upon. Time certainly waiting for no man. Many may consider this a subplot worth jettisoning but it actually forecasts Ira’s third act decisions to interfere where he’s not welcome.

Funny People is also a well-formed showbiz tale about the struggle to break in and how easy it is to sell out for a paycheck. The backstage stuff about preparing for the stand-up world is better than anything that’s trucked out on stage. Most of the stand-up comedy is pretty below par and I’m not sure anyone was going for irony when George and Ira would test jokes off each other and be told just how funny they are (when they really aren’t.) Much of it feels like an extension of what Ricky Gervais was going for in the second season of Extras, but the competitive jealousy and willingness to jump into an opportunity below their talents feels authentic.

With so much going on and Apatow successfully bringing us to the precipice of an emotional cartharsis, the saddest thing about Funny People is that it just never quite makes it there. It avoids any potential weepy reconciliations and there’s something interesting reading into Sandler’s final scene and what his guarded persona ISN’T telling us. But the final scenes - after over two hours of well-developed drama and brilliant comedy - just kind of limp to the conclusion. Road trip over, a final fight and then forgiveness. Funny People is far more disciplined and mature than it may get credit for. It suffers occasional indulgences in giving the immediate family a little more screen time than the film needs, but those are just a few forgivable seconds in what we’ve come to expect from Apatow. Whether it be the off-the-cuff riffing on the same gag or the obsession on working in an Everybody Loves Raymond joke (the best-to-date may be here), Apatow has a firm grasp on how we deal with the pains of the human condition. Laughter as the best medicine as George’s doctor reminds us. We remember James L. Brooks’ debut launch from TV-to-film, Terms of Endearment, more for the sadness of its final scenes than for how funny it was at times. I suspect the opposite will be true of Funny People, which is no Terms nor quite 40 Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up. The real difference between Judd Apatow, James L. Brooks & Cameron Crowe is that the former is making films more often. And that’s an exciting prospect.

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originally posted: 07/31/09 14:00:00
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User Comments

12/29/17 Tom I HATE ERIC BANAvich! Useless overrated actor and director. 1 stars
10/06/13 Shane Hate it. 2 stars
6/19/11 mr.mike Comedy/Drama is hard to pull off. Could have been 30 minutes shorter. 3 stars
8/06/10 Heather! Waaaaaaaaaaaay too long. Good, but waaaaaaaay longer than necessary. 3 stars
6/29/10 Justin Don't waste your time watching this clap trap. 1 stars
2/18/10 Heide I hate Adam Sandler! 1 stars
1/10/10 Monday Morning At first I liked it, then thought I was gonna puke, then thought I had diabetes, 2 stars
12/28/09 FrankNFurter Smug, jejune dreck.Saying "fuck" and "dick" 3,000 times in a movie is not profound! 1 stars
11/29/09 Dan Good, but a bit disjointed. Sandler was great, but Jonah Hill and Rogen are getting tired. 4 stars
9/23/09 Perdunok Hello Perdunky! 4 stars
9/14/09 M I dont think anyone knew what they were doing.....ZZzzzzzz 2 stars
8/27/09 R. G. Ranade Adam Sandler's best performance - but a sort of flat movie around him 3 stars
8/12/09 Simon The last half is just such a melodramatic mess..Funny at times,but Apatow needs DISCIPLINE 3 stars
8/05/09 shaun harris very funny 5 stars
8/04/09 Luisa It had a lot of funny moments, but also dragged on a little bit 4 stars
8/04/09 Joe Alfano Thought it was boring pretty much from the get go until the end.....was really disappointed 2 stars
8/03/09 Brian Gall As good as this film was, it could have been better, 3 stars
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  31-Jul-2009 (R)
  DVD: 24-Nov-2009


  DVD: 24-Nov-2009

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Judd Apatow

Written by
  Judd Apatow

  Adam Sandler
  Seth Rogen
  Leslie Mann
  Eric Bana
  Jason Schwartzman
  Jonah Hill
  Aziz Ansari

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