Alright, folks! I was told by Liam, my fierce English Editor that Funny People, Judd Apatow’s third directorial effort, doesn’t hit the UK until much later even though it opened here last weekend. What does that mean for you Europeans? It means I still have time to save you the price of a ticket by reviewing Funny People.
Funny People is a long film, about 150 minutes long, and commits the cardinal sin of a movie with such a length: it feels that long.
I see a lot of movies, some in the theater, some on TV pay channels and some streamed to my computer through the magic of the internet. In the month of July, I somehow avoided seeing horrible movies, which had started to concern me. “What if I’ve lost all critical perspective and lowered my bar by actually enjoying Transformers 2, never again to be trustworthy or insightful?,” I selfishly thought to myself. Good news: I didn’t like Funny People, which means I have re-calibrated my critical barometer.
Then again, just trashing the movie for no apparent reason doesn’t make any sense, so I suppose I should back up my claim that Funny People isn’t worth your 150 minutes.
Funny People is the story of fictional comedian George Simmons, played by Adam Sandler because Simmons essentially IS Adam Sandler. George used to be a comedian until he became a studio whore making movies like Re-Do where he’s trapped in the body of an infant or Merman where he is a MerMan. The film even starts off with home videos of Sandler shot by Apatow when the two used to live together. It’s an odd thing to mix real Sandler with fictional Simmons they way Apatow does, because Funny People is a big studio movie directed by hot-shit-Apatow with Apatow-golden-boy Seth Rogen in it featuring cameos by real-life comedians. At some point in the film, you’ll notice that people talk about George Simmons and your brain hears “Adam Sandler.” The guy was everywhere in the late 90s and early 00s, mostly making the kind of crap he’s now apologizing for with this thin “character.”
Simmons gets Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a rare cancerous blood disease I wrote an after-school special about once. Safe to say it’s horrible and can kill you fast. When Sandler decides to go back-to-basics and do more stand up, he hires Ira Wright (Rogen) oblivious when Ira screws his roommate (Jonah Hill as Leo) out of a co-writing gig. Sandler asks for both Ira and Leo, but Ira never makes the offer to his friend, coveting the job for himself because he is a lesser comedian and hasn’t been able to pay rent at the apartment he shares with Leo and Jason Schwartzman’s Mark.
Sandler tells Ira that he’s dying but asks the young comedian to keep it to himself and write some jokes for him.
That is the first movie in Funny People, a film that is actually two movies squished into one premise. The first half of the film is a portrait of the lives of famous comedians juxtaposed against the lives of up-and-coming comedians struggling to get work so they don’t have to serve cold cuts at the local deli.
The second movie in Funny People starts when Sandler tries to re-connect with the love of his life Laura (played by Leslie Mann) who left Sandler when he cheated on her and ran off to marry an Australian businessman Clarke (played by Eric Bana). When Laura thinks Sandler is dying, they re-connect, then Sandler is cured but Laura still thinks she’s in love with him. When Clarke returns from a business trip early, Ira and Sandler are stuck in Laura’s house with Laura’s family as Sandler attempts to steal Clarke’s wife out from under him and his daughters (the Apatow girls, a pleasure as always).
Yes, it’s a very unexpected and abrupt change in plot and tone, but this is Judd Apatow’s “death” movie. His first directorial effort, The 40 Year Old Virgin, dealt with love and sexual innocence. Steve Carrell played that part with enough aw-shucks and childish glee that it worked and played well to a young audience. Knocked Up was Apatow’s way of bringing his Freaks & Geeks mentality into adulthood by having Rogen’s stoner slacker learn responsibility the old fashioned way: by putting his baby up in someone. This film advances Apatow’s themes a bit further. All the characters are trying to make something of themselves (something Virgin and Knocked Up’s leads weren’t doing) and get cut short by questions of mortality.
I can see the appeal in doing a story about death with comedians at the center, but the film doesn’t really work that way. On the outside it seems great: would you rather talk death with a comedian or Al Pacino (with his needless yelling of late)? But the truth of the matter is much more sinister, because anyone who knows comedians will tell you that they are the most profoundly unhappy people you will ever meet. Sandler’s character sums it up best in one of his monologues where he says that he’s been trying to make his Dad laugh all his life and he had to be funny because you have to bring the jokes right before the old man beats the shit out of you. Funny people, REAL funny people not these Funny People, are the product of tragedy. A sense of humor is a survival technique for overweight children and social outcasts. As far as my opinion goes, that’s what kills the movie:
None of these characters are likable.
I can’t feel sorry that someone who was given everything through the trappings of fame is going to die, and I certainly don’t want to listen to 150 minutes of complaining if I think that person is a waste of space. And by the time the movie does decide to end, no one has really changed. They are all the same sad assholes we started the movie with.
I will now tell you why each character is a dick that doesn’t deserve to have a movie based around them.
George Simmons (Adam Sandler): The guy knowingly tricks star-fuckers into having sex with him, lives in a huge house with a large and faceless staff, treats Ira like crap, can’t actually emote to anyone and is SO selfish that he tries to break-apart Laura’s family without any thought of her kids and life. Worst of all, he ends that snafu by blaming Ira. Maybe it’s that Sandler has profoundly annoyed me with everything after “Piece Of Shit Car,” but if Adam Sandler were to really be diagnosed with cancer, I think we’d all agree that his great contributions to comedy are behind him.
Ira Wright (Seth Rogen): Not only does the guy refuse to share his job with his much funnier roommate, but his love story with female comedian Daisy (Aubrey Plaza) consists of two scenes of arguing and one scene of a SINGLE kiss. I understand this guy wants to be a comedian real bad and doesn’t want to work at the deli to make ends meet, but HEY that’s life, Ira. Suck it up. There’s also a part that barely gets referenced where Ira takes credit for one of Leo’s jokes. Joke thief as well? Usually Rogen’s characters have some degree of nerdy likeability to them, but Ira is a doormat until the last 10 minutes of the film. I wanted to slap him around several times in this movie (and even more so in the second movie squeezed into this movie).
Laura (Leslie Mann): Not only is Laura a bitch the first time we see her on screen, but she glows red like she just got a chemical peel when we see her again. Outside of this being Leslie Mann’s worst role in one of her husband’s movies, Laura is a miserable portrait of a woman. She’s the pivotal character in the film’s tonal switch, because when she shows up the film stops being a mediocre comedy and begins being something resembling a mid-life crisis drama. She’s ready to kick her husband out of the house and move her kids to LA so she can re-start her acting career and somehow never manages to see through George’s exterior to notice that he’s not a family person.
Clarke (Eric Bana): Bana works his ass off in this role. At first we’re supposed to hate him, then we’re supposed to sympathize with him, then he’s supposed to make us feel better about his home life just in time for the movie to end. He tries, he tries so hard. But – again – his character ends up right back where he was at the beginning of the movie when the credits roll thanks to some sudden “karma” lines that are supposed to make everyone forget they’re all traumatizing his kids.
There’s one good character in the film, and that’s Eminem as himself. He tells Sandler that death was George’s way out of the lifestyle his stardom has brought about. Hearing those words come out of Eminem’s stoic mug rung true. If the film’s overall message had a face, it’s that of Marshall Mathers: You may be successful, but no one is ever actually happy and no one can change.
What happened, Judd? This movie is populated with characters I couldn’t root for. The title promised comedy, but only delivered for the first 30 minutes. Everyone was the same at the end of the film (you might say Sandler had changed, but we never saw him cancer-free, so how will we know that?). It’s just a mess that has been assembled into a movie thanks to Apatow’s talent. The guy knows how to shoot a film and whatnot, but Jesus, this movie made me sad.
Judd Apatow films are usually comedies with a very real heart to them, but in Funny People that heart has been replaced by cameos and meta-humor. Then, about half-way through the heart dies and we’re challenged to root for either the selfish asshole trying to break apart a family or the cheating, borderline neglectful husband who is still an asshole, but a different kind.
What the hell?
What. The. Hell.