It’s hard to believe that Funny People is only the third directorial effort from Judd Apatow after Knocked Up and the The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Over the past few years, the man’s had his name attached to so many projects, it’s almost become a running inside joke in the industry.
Most of what we’ve seen from Apatow, be it when he’s directing or producing, are R-rated comedies, but with a little heart sprinkled on top. You might say that this was a great combination of drama and comedy, but it wasn’t enough for Apatow, who wants to take the serious angle a step further with Funny People.
Seth Rogen is Ira, a stand-up comedian who catches the eye of world famous comic movie star
Adam Sandler George Simmons. He’s hired as Simmons’ personal assistant, only to learn that the man is dying from a rare form of leukemia. Eventually Simmons beats the disease and uses his newfound time to try and reunite with his long lost love, Laura (Leslie Mann), who is now, a decade later, married with two kids.
Now, you wouldn’t think that a one-paragraph synopsis would translate into a massive two and half hour ordeal, but it appears that Apatow thought it necessary to combine a full length comedy with a full length drama in order to achieve is his desired results.
The finished product is absolutely far too long. If you’ve watched the trailer, you learn in about the first twelve seconds that Simmons beats the disease, but that’s not until about two thirds of the way into the movie, and Leslie Mann and Eric Bana finally show up at just the moment you’ve become completely exhausted by the film.
“Look dude, the script does not say to be this much of an asshole.”
So what fills the gaps? Simply put, Adam Sandler being a dick. Seriously, there’s no other way to say it, Sandler’s George Simmons is without a doubt one of the most unsympathetic leads ever seen in a movie, and I certainly hope that even though Sandler is “playing himself” here, that he’s nothing like this in real life.
I understand why he would start out as an asshole. He’s a lonely celebrity whose life takes a dark turn when he’s diagnosed with a terminal disease. He spends the first half of the movie routinely abusing Seth Rogen, who absorbs the punishment like a loyal lap dog. But when Simmons finally finds out that he’s better? He transforms from prick to sleaze, heading out to see his long lost love while her husband is away on a business trip.
This could be a forlorn, soul-crushing experience, as he gets to see what life could have been like for him if he had chosen to stop philandering and have a family, but instead he wastes no time in banging his ex in the guest bedroom while Seth Rogen entertains her kids fifty feet away. But it’s OK, because her husband “is probably, most definitely cheating on her anyways.”
Thankfully Funny People is self-aware enough to have Seth Rogen’s Ira step up to be the film’s conscience. He puts up with Simmons’ dickishness for the majority of the film, but once he sees him breaking this famiy apart, he’s forced to step up and do something about it. The film is summed up perfectly by his quote “George, you’re the only guy I know who became a worse person after a near death experience.”
“I have a confession to make, I’m a slut.”
And that’s the main problem with the film, it’s a story of a guy who doesn’t learn anything. He’s a spoiled celebrity who lashes out at everyone, and thinks he’s entitled to another man’s wife of 12 years because he had her first. He finds maybe thirty seconds of redemption in the last scene of the film with Ira, and we have our expected bromance money shot, but it’s far too little too late.
It almost seems like Apatow was cheating when he wrote the script for this film. He took the two of the most powerful heart-wrenching, dramatic events you can experience in life (a long lost love and a terminal disease) and mashed them together and hopes that we’ll be moved by sheer force alone. But Simmons reaction to both prospects just makes us hate him, and the “feel-goodness” of Apatow’s other films is absolutely nowhere in this movie.
And lastly, Funny People just isn’t funny for the most part. It has funny moments, usually heard in bits of the stand-up comedy that pepper the film, but the movie’s two leads are far outshone by the supporting cast, including Ira’s roommates Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill, and even Eric Bana, who is the funniest thing about the film despite being the only non-comedian of the bunch.
I wasn’t expecting great things from Funny People, but I was hoping for a smarter movie than this. Maybe it’s cliché to have the guy recover from his near-death trip, find a new outlook on life and get the girl, but this reimagining of the concept? It’s just depressing and exhausting, and makes you think that maybe the Apatow era of comedy has finally come to an end.
2 out of 5 stars