Sunday, August 02, 2009

Funny People (***1/2)

Funny People. 160 mins. R. Written and Directed by Judd Apatow. Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, and Eric Bana.

Make no mistake - Funny People lives up to it's title. It is a very funny movie, and with Judd Apatow sitting in the director's chair for only the third time, that should really come as no surprise. But it's also way too long, clocking in at an indecent two hours and forty minutes. And despite a game performance from Adam Sandler (who has never been better), and strong supporting work from Seth Rogen and Eric Bana, the movie never achieves greatness due to an unfocused script, half-hearted drama, and character arcs that leave a lot to be desired.

All that being said, I really liked Funny People on the whole. I love Apatow as a writer-director, and admire what he's attempting to do here. He's said in the press that Funny People is his "James L. Brooks" movie. Brooks is the writer, director, and/or producer of such classic films as Terms of Endearment, As Good As It Gets, and Broadcast News. All do a nice job of balancing comedy and drama, and are full of rich characters and insightful human drama. Funny People wants to be as good as those films, but Apatow doesn't quite get there. One hates to tell him how to write, but he certainly could have used a couple more rewrites here.

Sandler plays a close-to-home character named George Simmons. George is a comedic actor on the decline who returns to doing stand-up after he's diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening blood disease. It's on the stand-up circuit that he meets Ira (Rogen), a fresh-faced, insecure comic struggling to make a name for himself. George asks Ira to write some material for him, and it's not long before Ira is keeping George company as he goes to bed and accompanying George on his doctor visits. George ultimately tries to win his old girlfriend back (Leslie Mann), the one who got away and is now married with kids. The movie poses the question: what would you do with your life if you thought you were going to do and then you didn't? According to Funny People, you don't really change all that much. And while that may be true in real life, it doesn't exactly make for a fulfilling movie.

That's a shame too because Sandler starts off, and the script supplies him with, an Oscar-caliber performance. George is not the most likeable of guys, and Sandler hits all the right notes. If the character of George had actually been given a complete character arc, we might actually be talking Oscar for real instead of just merely saying that Sandler has never been better.

In fact, Funny People moves along swimmingly until an extended segment at Leslie Mann's house, where the movie just stops to a crawl and meanders for another hour or so, with nothing all that important happening. There are still some funny bits in there, but it's this segment of the movie that really drags things on for too long and wears the audience's patience thin.

The lack of compelling drama does not detract from the comedy. There's a ton of great stuff here - most of it centered around penis jokes - and when Apatow just lets his stars riff, the movie is a joy to watch. I especially liked the scene where Ira makes George an iPod playlist and the two spar back and forth over the song selection. The stand-up sequences are well done, and if I was giving a grade for pop culture jokes alone, Funny People would easily get an "A." I am recommending Funny People, and encourage you to see it, but it does not live up to its potential, and is not as satisfying as The 40 Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up.



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