Funny People DVD Review
Judd Apatow’s (40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) third directorial effort is one of those films that had the potential to be something great but is severely hurt by its overlong running time and an ill conceived decision to take the storyline in the wrong direction during the film’s last act. Having said that I really liked the first two-thirds of Funny People as it mixed both dramatic and comedic elements to perfection and I was totally involved in this first part of the film.
The story starts off introducing us to George Simmons (Adam Sandler), a very successful standup comic/movie star who is diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disorder and is given little time to live. Re-living his regrets in life, and wanting to live out what might remain of his time on earth, he returns to what makes him happy – being on stage. Here George meets Ira (Seth Rogen), a struggling comedian newbie whose only real income is working at a deli. While working the same stage one night George takes a liking to Ira and offers him the opportunity to become his personal assistant and joke writer. They soon strike up an offbeat friendship which becomes the engine for the film’s storyline. In many ways George sees Ira as the way he used to be, a guy who is talented and hungry before mega success marred his own perspective and corrupted him. The chemistry between the two is excellent and both actors give very solid performances that elevate the film to a fairly deep level at times. The plentiful laughs come from real situations with George and Ira’s visit to the doctor’s office being one of the funniest. Relatively unknown actor Torsten Voges who plays the Doctor is an example of pitch perfect casting.
While a cancer diagnosis is almost always a hook, what makes Funny People so compelling for the first 90 minutes is the look into the loneliness of George Simmons existence. In contrast to Sandler’s fun loving and highly likable real life persona, Simmons is a self-absorbed, privileged vision of Hollywood success that isn’t very pretty when Apatow’s camera shines on him. In many ways Sandler’s career of making silly films that the general public has flocked to mirrors his character George in the film, which is another interesting perspective. I’m a Sandler fan and enjoy most of his movies (Mr. Deeds gets me every time) but here, like Punch Drunk Love he shows he is a solid dramatic actor as well as a comedic one. As for Seth Rogen, this is his best work to date. While the ever growing Rogen backlash continues to escalate, especially at the box-office, he proves that he can nail a character with his work here. He’s a bit more low key but really shines in the role. There’s also a joke or two about his new found weight loss delivered by Jonah Hill (his roommate who also wants to be a stand up-comic)which is very funny indeed.
The star cameo’s with Sara Silverman, Ray Romano, Andy Dick, Norm MacDonald, Paul Reiser and Eminem are a nice touch, giving George’s world an air of reality.
Unfortunately the film starts to go off the rails in its last act when George and Ira journey out to Northern California so George can try and win back the love of his life and the girl that got away Laura (the always appealing Leslie Mann). Erica Bana plays her Australian husband with a temper problem and is pretty funny but the character feels like he jumps in from another movie altogether.
If Apatow just continued to focus the story on the friendship between the George Simmons’ superstar character and Ira Wright, the novice but talented comic, and the behind the scenes look at the standup scene I think he could have had a movie worthy of Oscar consideration. Unfortunately the story heads off in a totally different direction which in many ways feels like unnecessary padding and is really not that interesting. That last section is overlong and misguided – very surprising coming from the talented Apatow.
In a nutshell Apatow has delivered two thirds of a terrific movie and one third of a total misfire that left me more than a little bit deflated. It’s worth seeing – no doubt – but with much reservation. What should have been a homerun turns out to be a double with the runner stranded between second and third. 3 out of 5 zombies.
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