Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Janusz Kamiński
WRITER: Judd Apatow
MUSIC: Jason Schwartzman, Michael Andrews
Judd Apatow brings audiences his third directorial effort with “Funny People”. This time, the drama outweighs the comedy in a film that takes itself more seriously than Apatow’s previous efforts, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up”. Apatow reteams with Seth Rogen from his previous films while also pairing up, for the first time, with his old roommate Adam Sandler. This time, the veteran comedian gives a deeper performance than audiences are more accustomed to.
The film introduces the audience to Sandler’s George Simmons, a very famous comedian who lives in a mansion and has starred in hit comedy films. Simmons, however, is not a very happy man. At the beginning of the film, he seems to enjoy watching old home movies and stand-up routines while everything else gives him nothing emotionally.
Then he finds out he is going to die when he is told that he has a form of leukemia and it does not look he has much time left. That is when Simmons decides to go to a comedy club and return to stand-up comedy. His first show back on stage does not end well, however, and when he tanks, he stays behind to see Ira Wright (Rogen), a struggling stand-up comedian who is trying to make his way in the world.
After he enjoys Wright’s act, Simmons hires him to write jokes for Simmons’ upcoming gigs. Soon, however, Simmons finds himself unexpectedly confiding in Wright because, honestly, the upstart comedian is really the only one there for him.
Then there is Laura (Leslie Mann), the only woman that Simmons ever truly loved and the one that got away. She is married to a rich and (according to Laura, anyway) adulterous husband named Clarke (Eric Bana). When Simmons learns that he is sick, the first person he calls is Laura, not to tell her that he is sick but to just to tell her that he is sorry for all of the stuff he did to make her leave.
The problem with this film is that it does seem to stop at certain places when the film should have just moved on to the next step of the story. The film runs at almost two-and-a-half hours and that is far too long for the story that Apatow is trying to tell here.
One of the things that he could have cut was some of the stand-up routines. While some of them are funny, I found that I was not laughing at some of the jokes that were being told. They were supposed to be a way of showing how Simmons was dealing with his problem and how Wright was just getting better at comedy, but they were not really necessary to the overall story.
The film would have worked a lot better if Apatow had just decided to trim them down. The film ultimately does work, however, thanks mostly to Sandler. He plays Simmons as a man that the audience would hate if they ever met him but is redeemed by the fact that he also hates himself.
Anyone who has ever watched “Punch Drunk Love” knows that Sandler can play the more dramatic roles and he does an even better job in this film. He can still bring the humor, as well. The scenes where he is visiting his unusually eerie doctor are some of the funniest scenes in the film.
Sandler also has great chemistry with always dependable Rogen. Here, even Rogen is more dialed down than he was in “Knocked Up” and the performance is better for it. Rogen has already proven himself at playing the buddy in previous films but here, the audience can see that he is truly concerned for his newfound friend and, for the most part, is nonjudgmental towards Simmons actions.
As with his past films, Apatow also gives the audience a wide range of supporting characters to make the film a richer experience. Jonah Hill plays back up as the roommate who is slightly more successful at stand-up than Rogen’s character. Jason Schwartzman is the other roommate who has a horrible sitcom on NBC and has let what little fame he has go to his head.
There are also various cameos that range from Paul Reiser meeting with Simmons and he also has a brief altercation with Ray Ramono. These performances also provide just enough humor to keep this a dramedy rather than just a full-blown drama. For anyone going into this film, they should not pay attention to the trailers or the TV spots that are trying to convince the audience that this is the run of the mill Apatow comedy.
The film comes dangerously close to being a drama but that is okay. Apatow has written a clever script that narrowly avoids the formula and is a worthy addition to his body of work. The only thing that might keep me from suggesting this to someone is if they are looking for “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”. This film is not that type of movie nor should it be.