Monday, August 10, 2009


Funny People (B) is an interesting film to come from writer/director Judd Apatow at this point in his career. After the runaway successes of his first two directorial efforts (The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, both of which are much better overall than Funny People) and the near constant stream of hits that he's pushed through the studio system as a producer (Pineapple Express, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, Dewey Cox), it's clear that with Funny People, Apatow wanted to stretch himself as a storyteller and filmmaker (he even got Janusz Kaminski as cinematographer). What we get is an overlong, very funny, slightly meandering dramedy spiked with surprisingly darker moments of personal introspection and some great inside-Hollywood commentary. Adam Sandler, sort of playing a caricature of himself, once again demonstrates that when he's asked to actually act that he's capable of giving a solid performance. It's not as complex as his work in Punch Drunk Love or Reign Over Me (very underrated movie), but Sandler's turn as a jaded, big-time Hollywood comedy star in Funny People is both self-reflexive and rather poignant. Seth Rogen actually displays two gears this time as a struggling comic trying to make it big on the comedy club circuit who crosses paths with the Sandler's mega-star, who has just been informed that he has a rare blood disease and that death is looming. Funny People is two movies in one: a potty-mouthed expose of celebrity life and the stand-up circuit in Los Angeles, and a guy-tries-to-get-the-girl-back melodrama with Sandler trying to win back his ex-girlfriend (played by Apatow's wife Leslie Mann) who is now married with two kids. I liked the stuff centering on Sandler's relationship with Rogen and the comedy club hijinks more than the domestic strife sequences. Lots of familiar faces show up in Funny People (Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aziz Ansari, Eric Bana, RZA, Eminem, Ray Romano, Norm MacDonald, Paul Reiser, Dave Attell, Justin Long, etc.) and everyone delivers the comedic goods. I just wish that Apatow had been more focused; it feels like he was going for an almost Altman-esque portrait of Tinsletown's comedy world but he didn't have the confidence to meld all of the elements together. The movie has a slightly disjointed pace that causes the narrative to stop and start and sort of double-back on itself, and at a certain point, you just want the story to settle into a smooth groove. I like the fact that Apatow seems interested in not repeating himself every time out; Funny People is easily the most ambitious movie he's made yet, and I'm not surprised that it hasn't turned into a massive box office hit like his previous two films. This is a much more serious, much more mature, and less high-concept piece of work. It's about death, and the general knowledge and acceptance of death, and how you look back at your life and all of your missed opportunities. The fact that Sandler's character doesn't really change by the conclusion of the story is also an interesting aspect to Funny People. This is the big "movie-movie" that Apatow probably needed to work out of his system. It felt like the DVD extended edition in that he was given a longer-than-normal leash by the studio execs on his final cut. It's a solid movie with flashes of brilliance but overall, it felt a little undisciplined. It's still worth checking out, though, especially for the performances.


Joel said...

Haven't seen this one but plan to at some point.

Saw GI Joe on Friday and it was really cool, but last night I saw the masterpiece (500) Days of Summer, which I can't seem to stop thinking about. Wonderful, marvelous work from all involved, and Deschanel and Gordon-Levitt give two of the year's best performances.

Actionman said...

I'll be checking out GI Joe one night this week or next week. I am curious but not in a major rush. I still want to see G-Force in 3-D.

Glad you loved (500) Days. Terrific movie.

Joel said...

GI Joe's one (if you ultimately see it on DVD) to check out on Blu-Ray or in the loudest theater possible. Not a "must-see" but a fun flick.

(500) Days IS a must-see. Been telling everyone about. Might be the best film of the year. Star Trek (which I could also call the best film of the year) may be my favorite. But (500) Days is definitive in the annals of romantic-comedy cinema (much like Punch-Drunk Love), important (to anyone who's ever loved anyone else practically every teenager or overage person), and unforgettable (in the way that anyone who sees it won't be able to shake it for a while), and so much more than "this year's Juno." For my money, it's better than Juno.

Actionman said...

Muuuuuuch better than Juno.