Monday, August 3, 2009

Funny People

Funny People is Judd Apatow's third movie as director, and most assuredly his most personal endeavor. Featuring a very good performance from Adam Sandler and just about everyone involved, this film is very funny at times, but goes for laughs much less than either 40 Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up. There is a somber, realistic tone throughout, and one could imagine that this is an accurate portrayal of comedians in their everyday lives. One major disappointment for me going in was the fact that the trailer not only focused on the weakest part of the story, but also gave away a very important plot point. Since it's in the trailer I won't refrain from mentioning it myself.

Famous Hollywood actor/comedian George Simmons (Sandler) finds out he has a rare form of cancer, and thus tries to reconnect with some of the people/things that brought him joy earlier in life. One of those things was doing stand up, the other was an ex-fiance who had since gotten married and had two kids. More on that later. George's first try at performing on stage in a long time is simply a disaster. This is where he meets Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a young struggling comedian trying to make it in the biz. Sandler, who doesn't want anyone to find out about his disease, hires Ira to be his personal assistant and writer, and spends the remainder of the film either verbally abusing Ira or whining to him like a selfish child. The dynamic between these two characters is what makes the movie. Ira genuinely feels a sense of love and loyalty to Simmons, and struggles desperately when confronted with the truth about George's condition, not wanting to be the only confidant.

George continues to drag Ira into his demented world as he makes it his goal to win back his ex-fiance, Laura (Leslie Mann - Apatow's wife), despite her being married with children. Sandler plays George as simultaneously likable and repulsive. There is much depth to this character and made me wonder if Sandler felt any personal connection with this character and his handling of immense fame and fortune. Unfortunately, the last third of the film that focuses on this attempted reunion descends into a weird, awkward place and doesn't return to form until the last scene of the film. At least we get to see an interesting performance by Eric Bana as Laura's loud, abrasive, cheating husband.

While it takes a lot of risks, I ultimately loved this movie and believe that the reward is greater for it. This film has generated some strong reactions from critics, both positive and negative, which says to me that it at least makes you feel something one way or the other, and that's a good thing. I'd recommend it for the performances alone, because in addition to Sandler and Rogen and the others mentioned above, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman also contribute great supporting work. While this films does contain equal parts drama and comedy, the comedic elements work so well for me that Funny People is my favorite comedy so far this year.

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