Funny People 08/01/2009
Written & Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann
It is no longer news that Judd Apatow is the king of comedy. He has produced a number of comedy classics, and directed a couple of his own, and in the process altered a genre. He has re-legitimized mainstream comedy, and brought it to new heights by embracing the talents of young comic actors (and has turned many of them into stars) by allowing them to improvise, to unheard of extents, and also by incorporating mature themes. Most American comedies aim only to make you laugh, and will sink to any low to do so. Apatow's films respect their audience and are made with an all too rare sincerity. Funny People is his third, and best, film. Oftentimes, it is gut-bustingly funny, and at others it is insightful and genuinely heartfelt.
Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a comedian not too different from himself. He is past his peak, and resorts to doing stupid comedies, such as "Re-do", which features his character morph into a freaky man-baby thing. George discovers he has a type of leukemia, and will likely succumb to the disease. As one would expect, this causes him to look at his life, and having made so many mistakes, he is consumed with regret. His biggest mistake was letting the love of his life, played by Leslie Mann, get away. Since then she got married and had kids, and George wastes away alone in his mansion, with no friends, and no purpose. In an attempt to get in touch with himself he begins to do stand up again, and hires a young amateur, Ira, played by Seth Rogen, to be his assistant and write jokes for him. Ira becomes his friend and confidant, and their relationship is the heart & soul of the film.
Funny People doesn't try to hide the similarities between George and Sandler, and goes as far as to open the film with real footage of a young Adam Sandler making prank calls. The success of the film depends on the strength of his performance, and he delivers in the most important role of his life. He is charismatic and witty, but also mean and arrogant, hurting those around him in an attempt to better his own mood. He is almost a tragically flawed character, and a well-acted, well-written one at that. Like so many classic characters before him, he has gained everything he hoped to, and finds himself miserable as he ignored that which is truly substantial. It may be a tired insight, but it feels fresh to have the story be about a comedian, a man cursed by laughter.
The supporting cast is always strong in Apatow's films, but has tended to feel like an improv group just having fun. With Funny People, Apatow is more restrained, and no actor's riffing compromises the narrative. This is most important with Rogen, as when he goes off on a tangent, he always just ends up being himself. In this film, however, he truly commits to his character and always stays true to him. Earlier this year, Seth Rogen impressed with a darker turn in Observe & Report but I think this may be the strongest effort of his already impressive career. Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman add lots of laughs as Ira's comedian roomies. The chemistry of the actors in Apatow's films is unparalleled in comedy.
Knocked Up was also a very successful film, one that was able to switch from comedy to drama several times. Funny People is superior as it doesn't abandon its comedy for drama, or vice versa. The balance is much more organic and shows a growing maturity in Apatow's filmmaking. It is a long comedy, at nearly two and a half hours, but it uses its time wisely, making us become attached to all of the characters. It is one of most emotionally involving comedies I've come across, and never crosses the line of being overly sentimental. It is both thoughtful and moving while being consistently hilarious. Judd Apatow is becoming a real director, one capable of great things, and one who has already done some great things. He has taken a genre and pointed it in the right direction. Funny People is nothing short of a mainstream comedy milestone.
posted by adam cook