Funny People, the (relatively) new comedy by Judd Apatow starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen might be the first movie ever to release both the original and its sequel in one feature-length film.
George Simmons (Sandler) is a wildly successful comedy star, who can go nowhere without being recognized but lives alone, with no real companions. Ira (Rogen) is a young, broke, aspiring stand-up comic. When George is diagnosed with a form of Leukemia and given a slim chance of survival, he begins to question how he has lived his life. He sees Ira performing a stand up routine and hires him as an assistant and joke writer.
That’s the first movie. It then spins off into a second, tangentially related plot in this rather bloated, often grim comedy. I felt like there was a lot Apatow wanted to do with this film, and he ultimately decided just to throw it all in. It could have been an expose of the vapid lives of the famous who are recognized by everybody and k known by none. It could have been the story of the pain and agony that often lies behind the comic genius (the ‘sad clown’ parable we know all too well). It could have been about a man discovering what mattered in the last months of his life. It could have been about the rekindling of an old flame, or about the male camaraderie of an old veteran and a young novice. Instead, it tries to be all these things and more. While I wouldn’t claim it would be impossible to mix some of these themes into one film, Funny People is laden with multiple unimportant side plots and finds trouble un-jumbling and balancing all it tries to achieve.
I wouldn’t say it wholly fails, it succeeds in part with most of what it attempts. But had it trimmed the edges it could have wholly succeeded with all it attempted. It catches you by surprise, for instance, when Simmons’ old flame (Leslie Mann) appears one-third of the way through the movie and immediately starts crying because she had always loved him.
It’s a rather nihilistic, depressing comedy. Apatow said he was trying to make it “twice as serious, and twice as funny” as any of his other films. He succeeded with the former. But as I stated, it ends up feeling like two movies; one where George copes with death, another where he gets re-entangled with the love of his life. The way I ultimately felt about it was that the first half was a better film, but I laughed more in the second. But truth be told, I was anxious for the thing to end.
Sandler is the star of the show, playing a serious and complex character like he never has (well, at least since Billy Madison). He kind of lampoons himself throughout; his George Simmons is known for stupid comedies and characters that make really weird noises. But he’s lonely and isolated, and faced with his own demise. The first half especially showed me the Sandler with the real acting chops.
Apatow did a decent job of creating very flawed, very real characters. At face value, they are all somewhat despicable. Pretty much every character in the film does something disgusting, but somehow you come off liking them anyway. Eric Bana and Leslie Mann
are both disloyal people who ultimately want to save their family, and even though Bana’s character comes off as a tool for the first half of his time on screen, he is shown to be no more of an ass than Simmons; that it was all a matter of perception.
Laughs weren’t exactly commonplace, and were never fits of hysteria. But the film has strong characters and some good things thrown in, even if it gets a little muddled. You might not want to sit through in a theater, but it’s worth seeing at some point.