Judd Apatow’s films could never have been accused of being poignant. Sure, there’s a lot more to them than the average comedy. The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked up certainly contained more substance than all the Wayans Brothers and Scary/Epic/Date Movies combined. But none of his films have been as personal as his latest, Funny People. And a great deal of this is down to the fact that the film is more of a drama than a comedy. Despite starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen.
Sandler stars as George Simmons, a former stand-up comedian and now star of empty-headed vacuous family movies. He’s got money, success and fame. He gets any woman he wants. And he has a terminal blood disease. After finding out he’s not got long, Simmons goes off the rails. And he wants to return to stand-up. After gate crashing a stand-up gig, he meets Ira Wright, a struggling stand-up comedian. He hires Wright to be his assistant and introduces him to the world of a successful Hollywood star. But Simmons begins to resent the trappings of his success and wants to get back the one thing he never held onto. His ex-fiancee, Laura.
It’s clear from the get go that this film is different to Apatow’s other films. It’s far more personal. To a degree that the opening titles are scenes Apatow shot of Sandler when they were roommates and yet to hit the limelight. Apatow was a stand-up comedian at one point, and he injects a lot of his own personality into the characters in the film. It also contains quite a few Apatow regulars, including his wife, Leslie Mann, Rogen, and Jonah Hill. So it’s clear the writer/director wants this film to be something from the heart.
But is it good? Yeah, I suppose it is. It’s not as funny as The 40 Year Old Virgin. In fact, it is more of a drama than a comedy. In certain respects, Funny People shares a lot in common with Kevin Smith’s Chasing Amy. Both writer/directors are known more for their comedies. And both films are the most personal of their work. The dialogue in Funny People is as strong as anything Apatow’s done, and is where the comedy of the film lies. The actors are very familiar with each other and this helps the witticisms and delivery. So this isn’t a situational comedy.
The performances are for the most part, pretty excellent. Adam Sandler’s always done his best work when he isn’t doing mad-cap films. In fact, his best role was in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, a dark drama-comedy. So Sandler’s on fine form here. I’m sure he and Simmons have a lot in common, so Sandler could draw a lot on his own experiences for the role. Seth Rogen, while not playing a slacker here, seems to fit into the mould he’s forged in Apatow’s films. And while the Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann and Jason Schwartzman are all great in the film, the show is stolen by Eric Bana who appears at the end of the film. Bana is the only actor who isn’t playing a ‘funny’ character. But he slightly overplays the character, and gets the most laughs. That’s not a criticism as I’m sure that’s what Bana was going for.
The great criticism of the film is it’s length. The film is essentially two films tied together, and as such pushes the running time to a whopping two and a half hours. There could have been two films made of the story. And this is somewhat of a drawback for the film. But it’s perfectly entertaining none the less, and Apatow’s most grown-up film.