Funny People (2009): ***
Directed by Judd Apatow
If you have a comedy with the word "funny" in the title
then it sure as hell had better actually be funny, or else you're
setting yourself up for a nice, hubris-induced fall. Fortunately,
there is quite a lot of funny stuff in Judd Apatow's new movie,
although not perhaps as much as you might expect coming from him.
Funny People, you see, is actually a dramedy, that horrible
word that I am ashamed I just used. It is about a group of stand-up
comedians, who are by nature verbally witty people. They say very
funny things quite often. It seems sometimes that they can't help
But it is also a film about coming to terms with a terminal disease
and an unfulfilled, regretful life. It has serious parts that it
takes quite, quite seriously, and they are very effective.
But because the movie splits its focus between the serious and
the comedic, neither half of the movie really quite takes off and
soars. It is a good film, mind you, but it isn't the kind of film
that makes you laugh so hard all the way through that you can barely
catch your breath.
There are many nice performances. Adam Sandler is very good as
George Simmons, the funny man who can't seem to make funny movies
(the movie posters and clips from his character's fictional films
are an hilarious running gag), doesn't really have any friends (only
comedy buddies, who you can't really talk to about serious things
because they only tell jokes) or family or anything really to show
for his existence except for a big, empty mansion and a series of
unemotional one-night stands. Apatow and Sandler carefully build
sympathy for this man who is suddenly saddled with the news that
he's probably going to die unless the alternative therapy works
(there's only an 8% chance). But as the film goes on you start to
see signs that Simmons is not really all that sympathetic of a guy;
his unhappiness is mostly his own damned fault. Even his attempts
to be a better person after becoming ill end up being motivated
purely by selfish reasons. But at the same time Simmons is funny
and likable while being emotionally distant. It's a rather delicate
balancing act that Sandler and Apatow pull off rather well.
The real star of the film is Seth Rogan as Ira Wright, the young
up-and-comer who Simmons befriends simply so that he can have an
actual friend to talk to. Rogan is funny, neurotic, self-conscious,
petty, and noble all at the same time. It's very nice to see him
broaden his scope beyond the kinda doofus characters he's played
throughout most of his career. Mind you, Ira Wright does have quite
a bit of doofus in him, but he's whip-smart and clever and very
observant. Y'know, the stuff that makes for a good stand-up comedian.
Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill are great comedy relief as Rogan's
roommates, and the scenes with the three of them are some of the
funniest in the movie (like the grandpa candle scene). Eric Bana
turns in a wonderfully goofy performance as a very imposing Australian
who seems like he's trying just a little too hard to be nice. And
his ears stick way the hell out in this movie. I swear they did
something because they don't seem to stick out that far in any other
movie I've seen him in.
And there are two very good cameos by James Taylor (yes, that James
Taylor) and Marshall Mathers (yes, that Eminem), among many others.
Even though he only has two lines in the movie, James Taylor's lines
are two of the funniest in there. And Eminem has a very insightful
scene with Sandler where he very bluntly discusses whether or not
Simmons's life is even worth saving at all. Then he goes on to threaten
Ray Romano in a very hilarious sequence.
So Funny People is a good movie about Funny People, but
don't see it expecting a laugh-a-minute, gross-out, supercharged
comedy like we've come to expect from Judd Apatow.