The Popcorn Reel
Monday, August 3, 2009

Adam Sandler as George Simmons and Seth Rogen as Ira in "Funny People", directed by Judd Apatow.  The film opened last Friday.  (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Funny People

Apatow's Sea Change: Shepherding A Funny Man Away From Death's Door
By Omar P.L. Moore/   SHARE
Monday, August 3, 2009

The ironically-titled "Funny People" represents a slight diversion from the usual for director Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin", "Knocked Up") -- at least in tone.  The film, about a lonely comedian past his prime who is fighting a visit from the grim reaper, echoes the sad and raw undercurrent of Martin Scorsese's "The King Of Comedy".  Mr. Apatow adroitly pays homage to that film (one character in the comedy director's third effort wears a t-shirt with SCORSESE imprinted on it) but ultimately falls victim to Hollywood formula and the type of trademark juvenile male sexual dialogue that littered his first two films. 

Sometimes during "Funny People" it appears that Mr. Apatow is uncertain of the type of film he wants -- funny or serious.  He attempts to mix the two but does so in a way that feels forced and orchestrated, with numerous cameos from (or mentions of) many of America's most prominent comedians, as well as a number of characters (played by Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman, for example) who don't necessarily advance the narrative as much as celebrate it or give "Funny People", a sometimes mordant and bogged-down film its own comic relief.

The film's principal character George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a famous funny man who gets some unwelcome news about his health.  Lonely and forlorn, he seeks out some comics (including one played by Seth Rogen) to write him some material to populate what will be his last hurrahs.  The film remains serious as Mr. Sandler becomes ever-more dependent on Mr. Rogen's Ira character, becoming repellent as well as rewarding to his subordinate.  Mr. Rogen doesn't do anything markedly different than he has in prior films but it is his Ira that seems more poignant in some respects than Mr. Sandler's acidic portrayal.  One of these two onscreen characters is running away from himself.  The other is trying to make sure that women stop running from him.  Some of the proceedings are funny but they are often stale.

"Funny People" works when more realistic tensions (among competing and self-loathing comedians) and the relationship between Mr. Sandler and Mr. Rogen are front and center, but unfortunately when too many additional characters spoil the broth and a tacked-on extraneous subplot regarding Simmons' former sweetheart (Leslie Mann, Mr. Apatow's wife) and a needless twerp played by Eric Bana, the film derails and doesn't know when to end.  It's at this point where indulgence takes over and a film which could have ended at the hour and 45 minute-mark plows on stubbornly for almost another hour. 

Copyright 2009.  Omar P.L. Moore.  The Popcorn Reel.  All Rights Reserved.  SHARE


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