When seasoned comedian George Simmons learns of his terminal, inoperable health condition, his desire to form a genuine friendship causes him to take a relatively green performer under his w... Read allWhen seasoned comedian George Simmons learns of his terminal, inoperable health condition, his desire to form a genuine friendship causes him to take a relatively green performer under his wing as his opening act.When seasoned comedian George Simmons learns of his terminal, inoperable health condition, his desire to form a genuine friendship causes him to take a relatively green performer under his wing as his opening act.
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is an aging comedian, hating the cards God has dealt him. He has no friends, his career is washed up, and almost immediately after the film starts, is diagnosed with a terminal inoperable disease. Shortly after he begins taking experimental medication, he meets Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a struggling young comedian trying to live up to his roommates, fellow comedian Leo (Jonah Hill) and sitcom star Mark (Jason Schwartzman). With his life slowly fading, George hires Ira on as his assistant to write jokes for him, and begins to try and make something of his life before it ends.
While it sounds more like a drama than a comedy, Funny People does pack in the laugh-out-loud moments Apatow comedies are known for. While a lot of it looks like it continues the grand tradition of being improvised (with whole scenes dedicated to stand-up comedy routines), there is a great deal that appears to have been written by Apatow himself. Almost every joke kills because of how genuinely funny and outrageous there are. While the gross out humour appears at a minimum here, the graphic content discussed within the dialogue continues to be as uniquely entertaining as it always has been. I found myself gasping for air at more than a handful of comments these characters make to each other; they are just that funny.
But a lot of the laughs come few and far between what is actually going on within this overly ambitious drama. And unfortunately, it is one of the few things holding the film together.
It is clear from the start of the film, featuring old footage of Sandler as an aspiring comedian, that this tale is very special to Apatow. But his desire to tell this story on his terms, while aspiring to pay homage to his past and present as a comedian and filmmaker, seems to come in the way of the film itself. Scenes tend to go on and on for no purpose at all, and whole scenes seem to have been added to give greater depth for some characters, but end up being entirely superfluous and useless. Apatow is well known for having movies that tend to be 20-minutes too long. But with Funny People, he seems to break his own rule and drag the film out 40-60 minutes longer than it needs to be. The entire final act of the film is downright agonizing for how dragged out it comes off, and how ill-paced it becomes as it stretches on. I found myself checking my watch just hoping it would end sooner rather than later. At 145 minutes, this just seems like overkill. There is no reason this movie ever should have been released as being less than ten minutes shorter than films like The Dark Knight or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
But the key detractor from the film is its tone and consistency. It never seems to be able to balance itself out as a comedy/drama like Virgin and Knocked Up did. Apatow does not let the film gradually let one tone win out over the other; he just crams scenes filled with both elements almost absentmindedly. In one single scene, the film can go from hilarious, to sad, to hysterically funny, to downright depressing in less than five minutes. After years of being part of film crews in some capacity (either as writer, director or producer), you would imagine something as amateur as this would be totally out of the question for Apatow. Surely this sloppy brand of film-making is better suited for an earlier project, as opposed to what should be a crowning achievement in a continually blossoming career?
While the story and pacing is all over the place, the acting fares a little better. Sandler, playing a popular comedian much like himself, delivers a devastatingly excellent performance as Simmons. It seems that playing a character that is so closely similar to his actual career was just what Sandler needed to prove he has not completely squandered away that promising talent he once had. The visual expressions on his face, through pain and sorrow, are almost enough to forgive him for travesties like You Don't Mess with the Zohan and Click. This is a very adult Sandler playing a role more mature than he has ever had before, and he gives some of his best work to date within it. Rogen delivers a fairly well done performance as well, but seems almost deflated in some scenes. He gave his all in films like Knocked Up and Observe and Report, but here he just seems dialed down. Almost like he wants Sandler to overshadow him completely.
The supporting cast, from Schwartzman and Hill to Leslie Mann, newcomer Aubrey Plaza and a surprisingly hilarious Eric Bana, all give great performances, but nothing extraordinary. It was interesting to see Mann in a dramatic role, and while she is imperfect, she does well anyway. The film packs plenty of hilarious cameos too, some of which are just too good to spoil.
Funny People is just fabulous when it wants to be. But for the most part, it truly is a disappointing effort on Apatow's part. It is far too ambitious a project, and just muddled with tonal issues that it just never accomplishes what it sets out for. Which is a shame.
- Jul 29, 2009