Commitment To Reality Makes “Funny People” A Winner…The Hilarious Jokes Help Too
Every creative person reaches a point in their artistic lives in which they need to grow or reach for something a bit more ambitious than they are used to doing. If you have read one paragraph about Judd Apatow’s third directorial effort “Funny People”, then you are aware that this movie is his first shot at a serious picture. Going in, I was thinking there would be less of the dirty jokes in “Knocked Up” or “The 40-Year Old Virgin”…and I was dead wrong. I also thought there would be an overload of melodrama, which is usually how these type of movies fail.
Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a stand-up comedian turned box office superstar who is diagnosed with a rare, potentially fatal blood disease. After surprising a Los Angeles comedy club audience with a disastrous impromptu stand up set, George is followed on stage by Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), who make several unflattering comments at George’s expense. George likes what he heard and hires Ira as his personal assistant/joke writer.
Rogen’s Ira Wright is a pretty pathetic guy that sleeps on the couch of his successful friends, Mark (Jason Schwartzman) and Leo (Jonah Hill). Mark is the star of an hilariously awful NBC sitcom (aren’t most of them?) called “Yo Teach!”, which becomes the butt of several jokes as Mark feels that the show is actually funny. It’s a small role for Schwartzman, but he plays the self-absorbed fame hound almost as well as he played Max Fischer…almost. I’m not entirely sold on Jonah Hill, since he’s pretty much played the same person over and over. It’s the same schtick for Hill in “Funny People”, but he is still seems to stay fresh and quite hilarious. Just like “Knocked Up”, the roommate banter is a riot and much of it is easily missed due to too much laughter.
After some time and exposure to George’s private jet/mansion lifestyle, Ira and George slowly become friends. It doesn’t really become clear if George is simply befriending Ira because he knows he is going to die or if he truly likes him, but Ira definitely feels that he is George’s friend. Ira also learns that George doesn’t really have friends, just famous acquaintances, which leads to several funny cameos ranging from Andy Dick to Eminem.
George decides to reconnect with his long lost love, Laura (Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann). Laura left George years ago due to his infidelity and she has since married Clarke (Eric Bana) and had two children, Maple and Ingrid…who are quite naturally played by Apatow and Mann’s real life kids Maude and Iris. Mann shows that she can definitely hold her own in the funny department with Sandler and Rogen, while the Apatow girls continue to be a comedic revelation. Bana plays the prickish, overly aggressive jealous husband just right and really pours it onto some uncomfortably hilarious awkward moments. There is one scene in which Clarke addresses George’s illness that is so brutally painful to watch that it is almost not funny…almost.
“Funny People” is really two movies in one, which in today’s economy is really quite the steal. The first movie is all about George’s illness and his relationship with Ira. The second movie focuses on George’s attempt to win back Laura. Believe it or not, the first movie would be considered the comedy as the second one is much more dramatic and, in all seriousness, contains some very sleazy behavior from George. The pace definitely slows up in the second movie, but the funny doesn’t stop, the drama completely avoids cliche, and it makes the 146-minute runtime seem necessary.
Since Apatow wrote George and Ira for Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that they both excel in their roles. For Rogen, this is truly the first time he shows that he can play an actual character with depth and substance. As Rogen fails on stage and fails in his attempts to woo the girl of his dreams, stand up comic Daisy (a very funny Aubrey Plaza), I found myself rooting for him in hopes that a nice guy can win in show business.
Then, there’s Sandler’s George Simmons. This isn’t Sandler’s best performance (which I still consider to be “Punch Drunk Love”) but it’s definitely a brave one. Simmons is basically a film version of Sandler. An edgy, vulgar stand up comedian that is now relegated to making terrible kids movies. To make matters worse, he’s a selfish, arrogant prick that only cares for himself. If not for Sandler’s likability, you would completely despise George and thus, the entire movie.
Every single movie that Judd Apatow either produces or directs have a few things in common: weed, masturbation jokes, Jewish jokes, several f-bombs, and a big heart. “Funny People” is a very insightful look at fame and how relationships can change in the face of a terrible disease. The movie wisely stays away from cliched, potentially cheesy moments of self revelation and sticks to what is probably closer to real life.
“Funny People” isn’t as insanely funny as “The 40-Year Old Virgin”. It’s not as zany as “Knocked Up”. It is, however, as funny or funnier than either of those movies. What makes this Judd Apatow’s best and most accessible to all audiences is that it is deeply rooted in reality. Not everyone can identify with being famous, but everyone can identify with illness, lost love, and all the pain and humor that can come with it.