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Awesome: 24.53%
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6 reviews, 17 user ratings

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Funny People
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Dying Is Easy, The Last Hour Of This Movie Isn't"
3 stars

At some point in the career of virtually every comedic actor or filmmaker, the urge comes to do something a little more dramatic and sentimental in order to prove to themselves and their fans that they are capable of doing more than slipping on banana peels, making funny faces or doing fart jokes. (This is such a common impulse that it has served as the basis for several classic comedies all by itself such as “Sullivan’s Travels” and “Stardust Memories.”) However, for every legitimate triumph that has occurred as the result of this kind of shift (such as Steve Martin’s haunting performance in “Pennies From Heaven” or Woody Allen’s “Match Point”), there are many others that have tried so hard to move us that they wind up coming across as inadvertently funnier than many of their actual comedies. In the case of “Funny People,” the shift from flat-out comedy to something more serious-minded from star Adam Sandler and writer-director Judd Apatow probably won’t come as too much of a shock to followers of their work--Sandler has been stretching his acting muscles over the last few years in films such as “Punch Drunk Love,” “Spanglish” and “Reign Over Me” and Apatow’s previous efforts, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” have both contained stronger dramatic and emotional beats than most other contemporary comedies. No, the trouble with “Funny People” isn’t that it tries to do something different (although those going to see it expecting the raucous comedy promised by the ads may feel differently) but that it doesn’t do it very well. For about 90 minutes, it is a sprightly, touching and reasonably engaging film dealing with such topics as friendship, jealousy, mortality and the world of professional comedy with wit, intelligence and insight. Unfortunately, it still has nearly an hour left to go and it uses that time to drift off into an endless third act that has precious little to do with the main story and which drags so badly at times that it pretty much takes the rest of the film down with it.

Seth Rogen stars as Ira Wright, a struggling comedian who is currently on the lowest rung of the L.A. entertainment scene; doing stand-up for free on open-mike nights in order to gain experience while toiling away in a crappy job in a deli and living with two more successful roommates--the slightly more established fellow comedian Leo and newly minted sitcom star Mark (Jason Schwartzman). One night, just before he is about to go on, Ira’s spot is delayed for a surprise set from comedy superstar George Simmons (Sandler), a one-time stand-up who now makes jillions of dollars making empty-head comedies not at all unlike those found in the filmography of the real Adam Sandler. George’s routine is a bit darker and more death-obsessed than normal and when Ira finally takes the stage, he can’t help but make a few jokes about it in an attempt to relieve some of the tension in the room. The next day, George calls Ira up and asks him to accompany him to a corporate gig and write some MySpace-related jokes for the occasion. (He also asks Ira to extend the same offer to Leo but he never gets around to conveying that bit of information.) When he is unexpectedly asked to do a few minutes before George goes on, Ira panics and winds up doing most of the jokes that he wrote for George. George is annoyed, of course, but is suitably impressed with Ira’s talents to offer him a job as a combination gofer/joke writer. (Although the next paragraph doesn’t deal with anything that hasn’t already been uncovered by the spoiler-heavy trailers, those who haven’t encountered them should probably check out now in order to preserve some of the film’s surprises.)

At this point, Ira finally learns something about George that we have known since the beginning of the film--he has developed a rare form of leukemia and even with a rash of experimental medications, he has an 8% chance of a full recovery. Of course, George’s relentless pursuit of fame and fortune seems to have given him everything that he could possibly want--a zillion-dollar bank account, a lavish mansion so well-appointed that three flat-screen televisions sit unused in a garage and all the casual sexual encounters one could possibly hope for--but it has also made him a self-absorbed jerk who is estranged from his family and who has plenty of showbiz acquaintances but no real friends. Now that he his facing his mortality, a situation which he cannot get out of with his gift of glibness or celebrity status, George attempts to take stock of his life by reconnecting with those he has hurt in the past--the most important being former girlfriend Laura (Leslie Mann)--in order to apologize and bring about some kind of closure before he passes away. It sort of works and George gradually finds himself becoming a better person as a result when he gets the miraculous news that he has apparently conquered his disease and is all better. However, this new lease on life puts George at an unexpected crossroads--does he continue upon the path of self-improvement that he embarked on when he thought his death was imminent or does he resort to the self-centered and self-destructive way of living that he enjoyed before the onset of his illness? Inevitably, he drifts towards the latter and, with Ira in tow, he ventures up to Marin County and allows what first seems to be a casual reunion with the now-married Laura to develop into a full-on attempt to woo her and her young daughters (Iris and Maude Apatow, the real-life spawn of Apatow and Mann) away from her husband (Eric Bana) on the delusion that he is better for her and her young daughters because. . .well, because he is George Simmons and the other guy isn’t.

The idea of sitting through yet another movie in which a hard-driving and self-centered type learns to sit back and smell the roses in the face of tragedy sounds fairly unendurable but for the first 90 minutes or so, “Funny People” manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of this particular subgenre. Instead of pumping up the melodramatic aspects, Apatow takes a more restrained and realistic approach to this material--especially in the way that he handles the stuff specifically relating to the disease--that manages to be affecting without rubbing our noses in it while still figuring out a way to mine much of it for humor at the same time. The material involving the backstage look at the world of stand-up comedy is also interesting as well in the way that he candidly presents the amount of effort required to make it seem as if someone is up on stage just casually tossing off jokes as if they just popped into their heads at random. (Adding to the authenticity of these scenes is the fact that several of the actors have worked in the past as stand-up comedians themselves and, as a result, know intimately what their characters are going through up there.) Most of the performances are very good as well. Sandler is excellent in a performance that serves as a self-critique of his own career and which is easily his best work as an actor since “Punch Drunk Love.” As his protégé/aide-de-camp, Seth Rogen doesn’t make the immediate impression that he has in other films for most of the running time, which sounds like a problem until you realize that is the entire point of his character--he is supposed to be unsure and unformed until the end when he has finally matured enough to take charge of his own life. There are also a number of bright supporting turns from Hill, Schwartzman and (especially) newcomer Aubrey Plaza (as a cute comedienne that Ira develops a thing for without every quite doing anything about it) and some very funny cameo appearances as well (which are best left as surprises). And while Apatow’s screenplay may be a little too loose and overloaded with subplots for its own good, he seems to have finally curbed his willingness to indulge all of his buddies with extended improv scenes that extend the running time by 20 minutes without adding anything of value--there are a couple of those moments here and there (the most effective being the one where George and Ira compulsively mock the Teutonic doctor who is trying unsuccessfully to reassure George) but since the characters are just the kind of people who would consider such instant riffing to be a reflex action, they aren’t quite as jarring in this context.

So far, so good but once “Funny People” shifts its focus to Marin County and George’s attempts to reacquire his former love by any means necessary, it slowly (and I do mean slowly) spins out of control over the course of the next hour. One of the chief problems is that the change in tone and narrative means that at the precise moment when the film should be trying to find some closure for the characters and the story arcs that we have been following for the previous 90 minutes, it now asks us to immediately make an equivalent investment in a whole new storyline and set of characters. This would be hard enough to do under the most optimum circumstances but it is especially difficult here because the new stuff is nowhere near as interesting as the stuff we have just abandoned. The old girlfriend character is shrill, one-note and fairly unpleasant, her personal dilemmas are not compelling at all and Mann generates absolutely no visible chemistry with either the largely wasted Bana (who seems to have been cast here as some kind of payback for the hilarious one-liner about him in “Knocked Up”) or Sandler. As this section goes on and on, Apatow begins slipping into his old filmmaking habits and indulging himself and his loved ones with a number of scenes that could have easily hit the cutting room floor without anyone noticing. In what must be the film’s nadir, we are treated to a long segment of one of the little girls singing “Memory” at a school recital. Now the point of the scene is sound enough--after Laura catches George fidgeting with his phone during the performance instead of at least pretending to pay attention, this is the point where she finally begins to realize that George has not changed after all and is still only interested in himself--but Apatow hangs on his daughter singing for so long that I suspect that many audience members will begin fiddling with their phones as well. To be fair, there are a couple of funny parts in this section of the film (there is one reference to “The Deer Hunter” that inspires one of the biggest laughs) but by the time it finally winds down (with something like another 15 minutes to go), some viewers may find themselves reflecting on it all and, like the dying George going through his garage of pricey-but-useless trinkets, thinking “Is that all there is?” (Although Apatow’s previous films may have also dragged on too long, they at least had some kind of narrative propulsion in their final scenes to help keep things moving along.)

“Funny People” is certainly a cut above most of the formulaic comedies that have emerged from the major studios this year--it is ambitious, thoughtful and often very funny. However, the disastrous third act turn winds up throwing the entire thing up into the air and it never quite manages to pull itself together again. It is a bit of a shame because when it works, it really works. The rest of the time, however, it feels as excruciating as a particularly bad night in a comedy club and unless you are seeing it in one of those swank theaters aimed solely at wealthy adult couples, you don’t even have the joys of a two-drink minimum to help you make it through the night.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=18131&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/31/09 00:05:39
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User Comments

12/28/17 Tom I HATE ERIC BANAvich! Useless overrated actor and director. 1 stars
10/05/13 Shane Hate it. 2 stars
6/18/11 mr.mike Comedy/Drama is hard to pull off. Could have been 30 minutes shorter. 3 stars
8/05/10 Heather! Waaaaaaaaaaaay too long. Good, but waaaaaaaay longer than necessary. 3 stars
6/29/10 Justin Don't waste your time watching this clap trap. 1 stars
2/17/10 Heide I hate Adam Sandler! 1 stars
1/10/10 Monday Morning At first I liked it, then thought I was gonna puke, then thought I had diabetes, then....ug 2 stars
12/27/09 FrankNFurter Smug, jejune dreck.Saying "fuck" and "dick" 3,000 times in a movie is not profound! 1 stars
11/29/09 Dan Good, but a bit disjointed. Sandler was great, but Jonah Hill and Rogen are getting tired. 4 stars
9/22/09 Perdunok Hello Perdunky! 4 stars
9/14/09 M I dont think anyone knew what they were doing.....ZZzzzzzz 2 stars
8/26/09 R. G. Ranade Adam Sandler's best performance - but a sort of flat movie around him 3 stars
8/12/09 Simon The last half is just such a melodramatic mess..Funny at times,but Apatow needs DISCIPLINE 3 stars
8/04/09 shaun harris very funny 5 stars
8/03/09 Luisa It had a lot of funny moments, but also dragged on a little bit 4 stars
8/03/09 Joe Alfano Thought it was boring pretty much from the get go until the end.....was really disappointed 2 stars
8/02/09 Brian Gall As good as this film was, it could have been better, 3 stars
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  31-Jul-2009 (R)
  DVD: 24-Nov-2009


  DVD: 24-Nov-2009

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Judd Apatow

Written by
  Judd Apatow

  Adam Sandler
  Seth Rogen
  Leslie Mann
  Eric Bana
  Jason Schwartzman
  Jonah Hill
  Aziz Ansari

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