Adam Sandler & Seth Rogen in Funny People
Adam Sandler & Seth Rogen
"Funny People" is 50 percent good and 50 percent close.
I am a large, large fan of screenwriter Judd Apatow's previous directorial efforts, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," which are commercial as all get-out but non-formulaic and side-trippy enough to be interesting. Most of Apatow's characters think, talk and one-up each other like L.A. comedy writers, whatever they do for a living; in "Funny People" the characters are comedians.
The film finds Apatow digging into the question of what makes these charismatically desperate guys (and the too-occasional female) do what they do, and what the need to slay, every second, means when it comes to coexisting on the same planet with others. "Funny People" is also an attempt by Apatow to reconcile the huge success he has become with the up-and-comer he once was. The results run an increasingly exasperating 2.5 hours. All the same, the work has some life to it -- not necessarily directorial life (Apatow's pretty stodgy in that department), but in its ensemble expertise.
Comic turned movie star George Simmons, played by Adam Sandler, leads a fabulous life but not a full one. Emotionally he's numb (we hear of a rough childhood and a lifelong attempt to win his father's approval), gliding through bantamweight affairs with pliable one-offs. George regrets above all that he cheated on the one who got away, played by Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann, married with children in Marin County, Calif.
George receives bad news early in "Funny People," in the form of a rare strain of leukemia. The clock ticks. He must change his ways and reconnect with those he has sealed off from his life. George's new assistant and "additional material" man, a struggling L.A. comic played by Seth Rogen, acts as his apprentice, his sounding board and his punching bag.
The sections of this picture that come most easily to Apatow remind you of similar scenes in "Virgin" and "Knocked Up." Rogen's Ira Wright is the pullout-couch-roommate of a fellow comic played by Jonah Hill, a long, ingratiating way from his manic-motormouth "Superbad" mode. Their pad also houses an actor (Jason Schwartzman) who has scored the lead in an appalling sitcom called "Yo Teach." As relationally clueless offstage as he is eager to discuss his masturbatory habits onstage, Ira is sweet on a fellow comic played by Aubrey Plaza (too small a role for such a promisingly dry actress).
For every familiar joke about the menacing brand of English spoken by a Scandinavian doctor (Tortsen Voges), there's an unexpectedly fruitful one-liner concerning, for example, "Mr. Belvedere." The film comes dangerously close to stalling, however, once George and Ira visit George's ex, stuck in an untrustworthy marriage (Eric Bana plays Mann's husband). By the time Ira implores "Can we just go?" you feel the same way.
The cast includes cameos from half of the world of comedy (Ray Romano, Sarah Silverman, Paul Reiser, etc.). Sandler and particularly Rogen are up to the limited dramatic and comic challenges they're given. Next time, though -- and anyone with "Virgin" and "Knocked Up" on his three-film resume makes you eager for what's next -- I'd like to find out what Apatow really thinks of the comedy world and the comedy psyche, and of passive-aggressive mixed blessings like George. Warts and all. "Funny People" is oddly wart-free.
"Funny People" Movie Trailer
Funny People MPAA rating: R (for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality).
Running time: 2:26.
Starring: Adam Sandler (George Simmons); Seth Rogen (Ira Wright); Leslie Mann (Laura); Eric Bana (Clarke); Jonah Hill (Leo Koenig); Jason Schwartzman (Mark Taylor Jackson).
Written and directed by Judd Apatow.
Produced by Apatow, Clayton Townsend and Barry Mendel.
A Universal Pictures release.
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