9 October 2009

Movie Review: Funny People


Funny People
2009, 145mins, R
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow
Cast includes: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman
Release Date: 31st July 2009

“Funny People” is the most mature work yet to emerge from writer/director extraordinaire Judd Apatow. A poignant drama and successful comedy rolled into one, “Funny People” is a terrific big screen offering even if it loses its way after the two hour mark. Apatow has from the producer’s seat overseen a vast array of comic pictures in the last few years, many of questionable quality, yet whenever he picks up the pen and directs proceedings himself big screen magic seems keen to follow. “Funny People” is the man’s third outing behind the camera and whilst it’s not quite as wonderfully entertaining as 2007’s “Knocked Up”, it still hurtles miles ahead of most mainstream competition.

George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a legendary stand-up comedian and massive movie star, his face having adorned laughter lounges and theatre auditoriums for years. On finding out that he is terminally ill George realizes that his life is empty, and recruits up and coming comedian Ira (Seth Rogen) to write him new jokes and act as a confidante. As the days get darker George understands that the fame and fortune he has gained are no substitute for the relationships he may have missed, primarily that with past love Laura (Leslie Mann). In a bid to make everything right George takes Ira across the country in pursuit of Laura, only to find her married and with two kids, yet the woman of his dreams may not be as content as her picture perfect life suggests.

“Funny People” boasts several awesome performances, not least of all from leading man Sandler. It’s doesn’t take a hardened movie buff to see parallels between Sandler’s own career and that of his character, Apatow’s screenplay exploiting such similarities to great theatrical effect. Sandler is comfortable in the role from the start and delivers several scenes of barnstorming brilliance, catching the conflicted comedian in a truly unique and fascinating light. Sandler has dabbled with mixed results in the field of straight parts in the past; “Funny People” should do him the service of proving once and for all that he may be a clown primarily, but a pretty decent thespian second. Rogen gets to shake things up too, providing a much more subdued and relaxed character than his previous parts have afforded him. I do enjoy Rogen’s style of comedy but overexposure is a constant threat, his fresh work in “Funny People” hopefully quelling some of that oncoming turbulence. His shared scenes with Sandler are excellent, moments of emotional revelation actually peppered amidst the witty banter and dick jokes. On the fringes the like of Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman are all very effective though a sourer note must be reserved for Eric Bana. Whilst undoubtedly a talented actor the Aussie struggles in “Funny People” as Laura’s philandering husband, comedy clearly not his area of expertise.

“Funny People” has a wealth of good humor and like “Knocked Up” provides hidden depth below the giggles. This is a serious and emotionally ambitious film, Apatow has things to say and he purveys them sharply in his skillfully constructed script. The relationships are balanced and believable, the central arc between Ira and George particularly engaging and tastefully measured by the auteur. The story loosely cribs from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and so a solid story template is a given, “Apatow using his considerable talents to fill out the characterizations and modify the classic tale to suit the current comedy climate. It’s not hard to see that Apatow himself was a key player on the comedy circuit for several years, his perception of young and enthusiastic performers feels organic and pure. How he managed to nail the old and cynical pro so well is anybodies guess, but it’s obvious that his own experience filters strongly into the world of Ira and his roommates.

At nearly two and a half hours “Funny People” is a long movie, yet for the majority of the running the time investment feels sound. This is an intelligently written drama and comedy, combining the two beautifully with a metric ton of interesting relationships created as a consequence. Yet the ending feels weak. One almost assumes that “Funny People” takes the slightly cowardly finish, a far darker and memorable climax only one rewrite away. After delivering such an honest and engrossing character study in the two hours prior it’s disappointing that Apatow ties the narrative knot in such a tepid nature. The film itself is too good for such a contrivance to do any real damage, yet had a slightly braver dénouement been applied, who knows? I hate to bandy around the word masterpiece lightly but had the final act of “Funny People” been more forceful and courageous, it might have been a fair description.

It’s easy to recommend “Funny People” and it goes without saying that Apatow’s directorial CV remains fireproof, this doesn’t grow on you as much as “Knocked Up” but it’s probably a darker and more adult effort all the same. The final act is an annoyance but ultimately “Funny People” gets too much right for that to be a major issue and Sandler’s exuberant performance is worth the admission alone. “Funny People” is comedic nirvana for those seeking rich and emotionally rewarding multiplex material.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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