The long-time friendship between Apatow and Sandler seems to have brought out something unique from the both of them. Under Apatow’s direction, Sandler delivers his best performance yet. And Seth Rogen, who’s been one of Apatow’s regular players since getting his start in the Apatow TV show Freaks and Geeks, also gives his best performance to date as Ira Wright, a struggling stand-up comedian who Sandler hires as his assistant. Rogen has lost a lot of weight over the past few years, and some of the funniest lines from Funny People come as a result of his new slim body. Some of the biggest laughs are had by scene-stealer Jonah Hill making fun of Rogen’s noticeable weight loss.
Hill and Jason Schwartzman play actors/comedians with better careers than Rogen’s Ira Wright. Their stinging put-downs and jealousy over each other’s success not only provides the audience with the chance to feel like flies on the wall inside any struggling actor’s Hollywood apartment, but also adds a lighter touch to matters when things get too dramatic. And Apatow, despite the heavy subject matter, does a superb job of reining in the pathos by tempering it with gallows humor.
George Simmons has a career that echoes Adam Sandler’s, and it looks as though he’s got the world on a string. Outside appearances would suggest life couldn’t get any better. But George has no real friends. He only has acquaintances and comedians he enjoys the company of. He’s estranged from his family and he cheated on the only woman he ever loved (played by Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann). There’s no one person he can turn to to confide in. And when the doctor delivers devastating news – he has a rare form of leukemia – there’s not a soul on earth who he can share his grief with.
As more of a diversion than a need to entertain, George goes to a stand-up club for an impromptu performance. There he spots Ira, a guy whose self-depreciating humor guarantees he’ll never be a hit with women. George likes him – or at least finds him interesting – and hires Ira to be his personal assistant and to write jokes for his new stand-up act. Ira jumps at the opportunity and is willing to do anything George asks of him. He’s not happy about being the only person who knows George is seriously ill, but he’s not one to question George’s decisions – yet.
As their relationship grows, Ira becomes more sure of himself and less sure of George’s life choices. And George, thanks to this new perspective on life offered by Ira, now sees this life-threatening illness as a second chance, a way to undo some of the bad choices he’s made on the road to fame and fortune.
Apatow packed Funny People with not only good comic actors, but good actors in general. Sandler, Rogen, Hill, Schwartzman, and Mann are all terrific. Eric Bana doesn’t enter the film until the last 45 minutes or so, but when he does, he gives a wonderfully funny and touching performance. Bana’s performance is so good it begs the questions: why did it take so long for him to make an entrance in the film and why hasn’t he been in more comedies?
The Bottom Line:
Spoofing stupid mega-blockbuster comedies, as superstar comedian George Simmons Sandler appears in Re-Do, a film which has Sandler’s adult head placed on a baby’s body. He’s also Merrman, a grown man with a mermaid tail. The made up films within Funny People look totally ridiculous, yet they’re not that far-fetched. Hollywood’s put out worse crap and seen dollar signs ringing up to the tune of millions and millions. Although Apatow’s prior films as a producer or director haven’t been as ludicrous (well, maybe with the exception of Drillbit Taylor), Re-Do and the Merrman movie represent the sort of enormously silly movies that used to be Sandler’s bread and butter. Entertaining, yes (for some audiences), but frivolous. I’m not slamming frivolous comedies – they have their place and are great for escaping the real world. But Sandler’s grown out of that, and Funny People allows the audience to see what he can do when he’s given the perfect material to use as a springboard.
Apatow’s been credited with making it possible – and profitable – for studios to greenlight R-rated comedies, and his fellow comedy filmmakers often bring up his name in glowing terms. And Funny People has the same heart, and naughty language and adult situations, as Apatow’s Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin. But this film mines its comedy from a much darker area. Still funny, Funny People shows a new side of Apatow and his gang of actors. Apatow’s growing and evolving, and where he’ll take his next project after Funny People is anybody’s guess. No matter what he tackles next, it’s all but guaranteed to entertain.
Funny People was directed by Judd Apatow and is rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality.
Theatrical Release Date: July 31, 2009
-By Rebecca Murray
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