I’ve been putting off writing about Funny People hoping my recollections would blur a little and I might realise it is better than I thought, only it really isn’t.
I am an Apatow fan, The 40 Year Old Virgin is possibly my favourite film of the last 5 years, definitely top 3, and I really like Knocked Up until the last 40 minutes got full of chick-flickery. Judd gets a bunch of funny actors, puts them in funny situations that further his story and lets ’em go. He doesn’t go overboard with the body fluid jokes and is obviously loyal to his actors as they each appear in almost everything he has a hand in.
Judd Apatow made middle aged virginity hilarious.
Judd Apatow made unwanted pregnancy funny.
Surely Judd Apatow can make a bunch of funny people playing comedians and comedy writers funny?
I mean how could he go wrong?
With Funny People he teams with Adam Sandler for the first time, although they apparently lived together as struggling comics many years ago. Adam Sandler is the neediest guy in film. I have never seen a film where Adam Sandler knowingly allowed his character to be anything but the nicest guy in the movie. Even when he plays a loser or a bastard he always has his character be good to old ladies, always is friendly and helpful to the underprivileged and never says a truly nasty thing.
And people love him for it even as he continued to make increasingly lousy pictures through the late 90s until now.
In Funny People Adam Sandler plays a prick, a full blown, egotistical, self centred prick, though I don’t think his character actually realised what a prick he was, and because he is famous everyone around him put up with it.
I hated him in this movie, even near the end where (spoiler free) he reaches out in acknowledgement of earlier prick-ery.
Sandler is a famous comedian and actor named George Simmons, hardly a stretch for him right? But as every trailer and preview has told us he is very sick and might not come through. Despite all his accomplishments and perks of existence Simmons is lost and feels alone.
Seth Rogen is Ira, a struggling stand up and aspiring comedy writer, living with Leo (Jonah Hill) who is in the same boat, and Mark (Jason Schwartzmann), who has sorta struck it big with a role in a crappy sit-com, and is allowing his limited fame to massage his ego just a little too much.
An early scene that is actually funny has Mark telling Ira that he has 10 days to bed a chick he has his heart set on before Mark steps in and takes her from him, the confidence and assurance that Mark has in making this claim is amusing, especially as Ira allows himself to be wound up and even more unsure of himself.
(Here’s one thought though before I go further. Who would have thought the goofy kid from Rushmore would be the chick magnet in any shared home, that’s what happens when you team him up with Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill I guess!)
So meanwhile, back at the George Simmons, George goes back to rediscover his roots at a local comedy club on open mic night when Ira, Leo and others are honing their schtick, only George bombs horribly and takes the step back even worse.
So George contacts Ira out of the blue and asks him to write some jokes for him to help him re-find the funny. I might add here that being a film about stand up there were about 10 minutes of various guys doing various routines, almost all of them centring exclusively on dick jokes, if this is what Judd Apatow finds hilarious I think I know why the movie suffered.
An early gig goes well for George and he decides to hire Ira as his assistant, and from this point George is 90% prick until the final minutes of the movie.
(I have a theory here: When someone is a prick/bitch even 33% of the time, it doesn’t matter how nice or sweet they are the other 67%, in my eyes they are a prick or a bitch, period. Even worse is the person who acts like an absolute tosser for hours then says to you straight-faced, “I’m actually never like this, I’m a very nice person”.)
As George runs the movie at around a 90% / 10% prick : nice guy ratio I have no problems saying he has precious few redeeming features.
Once Ira discovers George’s secret about his failing health he struggles to deal with the heaviness and tries to cheer him up. George then decides to make peace with his family and to tidy up his affairs in advance of the seemingly inevitable, giving things to charity and patching up previous wrongdoings.
In one such effort George invites his ex-girlfriend Laura to his home to apologise for the way he treated her, only he ends up trying to explain that he still loves her despite the fact she is now married with 2 kids. Perhaps she was more understanding because of his illness, but things go OK and George arranges a catch up with Laura once more when he has a gig in her hometown. In between scheduling the meeting and the gig occurring George gets some positive news regarding his health. Should he tell Laura or let the pity she has loosen her up a little?
Many reviews that I have read say that this is funny with the usual Apatow charm. I can’t see where the charm is in having a prick of a guy jeopardise the marriage of an ex by using a health excuse (that is no longer true) to get her in the sack.
But maybe that’s just simple old me.
As is always the case in Apatow’s (albeit) three movies, we get 80% in and moving to a conclusion where as the Roots might say “Things Fall Apart”, only in this case I wasn’t sure if I wanted them to be mended.
I’ll remain spoiler free but the final act of the film involves, George, Ira, Laura and her husband Clarke, played by Eric Bana.
As an Australian I know Eric Bana got his start in sketch comedy, so I can see it would be a surprise to Americans to find that he was funny here. What was more of a shock to me though was realising as the credits rolled that in a 2 + hour movie in which he had maybe 20 minutes of scenes, he was by far the funniest guy in it!
I am hoping this is an anomaly and that Judd moves away from the big name actor and finds a bunch of new low key actors to introduce to the film world. So far he has found Rogen, Hill, Jason Segal and reintroduced Paul Rudd to the world as a comedy actor.
When a comedy called Funny People (!) featuring stand up comedians telling jokes has the fewest genuine larfs of the three Apatow movies something has gone desperately wrong, and none of the 1,000,007 cameos that pepper the film nor the good will created by the earlier two can mend that.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. We get it Judd: You’re famous, you know people and can get them in your film. I don’t care. Go back to actually being funny.