Review: 'Funny People'
Adam Sandler plays a successful comic coming to grips with a possibly fatal diagnosis in the latest Judd Apatow comedy.
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The other major character in "Funny People" is Ira (Seth Rogen), a fledging stand-up comic George hires to stay with him as a combination comedy writer-secretary. Ira had been rooming with two other young comedy dudes, Mark (Jason Schwartzman), who stars in a dreadful TV sitcom, and Leo (Jonah Hill), whose brand of stand-up, like Ira's, is heavy on the horny-hormonal.Skip to next paragraph
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Surprisingly, given his own background, Apatow doesn't really capture the raucous highs and low of the backstage/onstage comedy club circus. It also doesn't make much sense that George, a major star, would hire Ira, a nobody with a so-so comedy routine. We're probably supposed to feel that George has hooked up with Ira precisely because he's a nobody, but a nobody without much discernible talent?
On the other hand, the way he's portrayed, George isn't exactly a laugh riot either when he's performing. The movie clips of his that we see – where he plays a merman, or a squalling baby – are pretty stupid, and it's not clear if Apatow intended them to be that way. Is he saying that the foul-mouthed, babe-busting George is a fraud for making a fortune in family entertainment drivel? Or is he saying that George, deep down, is a childlike innocent? Maybe a little of both.
Since Ira is basically George's glorified lackey, we wait for the inevitable moment when the tables turn and the king gets his comeuppance. It's a long time coming. (The film is overlong at almost 2-1/2 hours.) In order to engineer the switcheroo, Apatow reintroduces George's ex-love Laura, a former starlet now living with her two daughters and an Australian businessman husband (Eric Bana, using his Aussie accent) in a Marin County mansion. (In this movie, manses are a dime a dozen.) In San Francisco for a shared play date, George and Ira end up hanging out at Laura's homestead while her husband is away, with predictable complications. Since Leslie Mann is Apatow's wife and the daughters, played by Maude and Iris Apatow, are their real-life children, this portion of the movie has a vaguely squirmy home-movie feel.
Sandler is very good, though. This is not the first time he's tried to be a real actor instead of just a gagster. ("Punch-Drunk Love" remains his biggest stretch.) The world weariness he projects as George runs deep. It's the weariness of a star who, even before the bad news hits, seems spiritually depleted. It's a testament to Sandler's performance that he not once milks George's life-at-the-top malaise for easy sentimentality. As for the rest of it, "Funny People," not quite funny enough, or serious enough, falls into the muddle middle. Grade: B- (Rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality.)