Funny People

Posted on November 25, 2009 at 6:10 pm

“Funny People” combines two very different movies. The first is a typically crass, shallow Judd Apatow production, saturated with childish sexual antics and slapstick humor. The second is a dark, self-aware examination of a painful and ultimately meaningless life. What starts out as an intriguing dance between these two different themes ends up as a brawl in which crass and shallow wins by a TKO in the 23rd round.
In the first few minutes, we witness the transition of George Simmons (Adam Sandler) from a happy kid clowning around with prank phone calls and practical jokes to a wildly successful comedian and movie star, standing alone like an emperor on the balcony of his huge mansion by the sea. His crude instincts have become the foundation of a vast entertainment empire. The transition from Sandler’s grainy amateur videotapes with friends to his isolation above manicured lawns and swimming pools won’t exactly compete with Citizen Kane, but it is not unmoving. There even appears to be a glimmer of irony at the way society rewards childish behavior.
We witness Sandler through a day in the life: he wades through crowds of adoring fans who gather whenever he walks down the street. He has obviously become experienced at shaking hands and wisecracking while keeping his distance. He wades through stacks of proposed scripts and lucrative offers that have been submitted for his consideration. He wades through piles of possessions that now weigh him down and no longer give him pleasure. It becomes clear to us that his glitzy life is hollow at the core, and Sandler is forced to confront that fact as well when his doctor tells him that he has AML, a form of leukemia, and is likely to die.
Sandler first flails around in response to this news, sometimes in persuasive ways. After a particularly bitter and unsettling performance at a comedy club, Sandler meets Seth Rogen as Ira Wright, a young and aspiring comedian who works in a delicatessen and wants nothing more than to become a comedy star like Sandler. Sandler is reminded of his younger, purer days and takes Rogen under his wing as a joke writer and valet. Their adventures together take up most of the story. We see Sandler’s lavish lifestyle as well as his dark vices through the wide eyes of Rogen and occasionally we even care about which one of them will transform the other first.
At Rogen’s instigation, Sandler revisits his past, talks with his estranged family and friends, and even reaches out to the one true love of his life, the girlfriend who left him years before because he cheated on her. The former girlfriend, Laura (Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann) is now married to an Australian businessman (Eric Bana) and has a family life with two delightful daughters (played by the children of Apatow and Mann).
This movie is more interesting than typical Apatow fare and even has some good moments, but it cries out for an editor. It becomes less satisfying as it progresses (and it progresses for a long, loooonnnnng time).
Apparently, Apatow is only able to go so deep before resorting to his former self. At one point, Rogen yells at Sandler, “you didn’t learn anything from a near death experience! You are worse than you were before!” Words for Apatow to ponder.

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Comedy Drama

15 Replies to “Funny People”

  1. how painful is the part about learning the diagnosis? Is this ok for a person just diagnosed with cancer?

  2. Hello, Franki and thanks for writing. My best wishes to you and to the person who has received this diagnosis. I’d leave it up to the person involved as to whether this is something he or she would want to see. But in general, the illness is handled lightly — unlike “My Sister’s Keeper,” there are not a lot of details about symptoms or treatment. And it has a hopeful conclusion. If you see it, let me know what you think.

  3. Is the move Funny People remotely appropriate for a 16 year old boy?
    What “kind” of nudity is in it?
    Thank you,

  4. I am recommending this one for adults only, Sheri. It has constant extremely explicit and vulgar sexual humor and many of the women are exploited, portrayed as mindless groupies. There are explicit sexual situations with nudity as well.

  5. I will not be seeing this film. I do not in any way find Apatow’s films funny. I do not enjoy his crude, rude humor or those who are associated with it. The idea behind it could be interesting and even complelling with someone fighting cancer and trying to pass on their knowlege on. If someone else had been involved with the subject maybe I would be willing to see it but not this. In all I have no interest in seeing “Unfunny People.”
    On another note Nell, I find it extremely interesting that there have been numerous films with gratutious male anatomy exposed and never once have I read about how males are being exploited by it. However, I see it here with mentioning women. I certainly don’t want to see anyone exploited and if the females are in this, then I am glad it was mentioned. However, it sure would be nice to see the fact that males are being exploited as well. I would hate to think that it is an example of a double standard.

  6. Thank you for your comment, Tim. As you know, I believe that context is determinative and in this case the exploitation I refer to relates to the way the women are portrayed (with their clothes on) and not to which body parts are exposed.

  7. I just saw this film and it was long! Too long for a comedy. Not that it wasn’t well-made for the most part and had some moments of excellence, but… two hours plus for a comedy????? And his wife and kids had no place in the movie. I agree with some reviewers who have said that it should have stayed within the realm of the standup comics and not veer into his former girlfriend’s marriage with Eric Bana etc. It does seem like just an excuse to get Apatow’s wife and kids in the film.

  8. Thanks, Ken. I agree it was too long and uneven. I hope someday Apatow can create a more complex female character, though I always appreciate Mann as an actress.

  9. Well put. I’m a big Apatow booster … but this is an ambitious misfire. He’s often accused of writing shallow roles for women, and the part of George’s lost love only exacerbates the problem.
    Both Apatow and Tarantino need someone to step up and say, “your movies are too long, too self-indulgent. Let me in the editing room and I’ll make them better.”
    Slim chance of that happening, and that’s a shame.

  10. Nell, I saw this movie in a sold out theatre last night—and I was horrified to see children younger than my daughter there. (who is 12 and wasn’t there). I just wanted to run over and cover their eyes and ears! Nonetheless—too long…too long…too long. I read in IMDB under trivia that Sandler “he felt guilty about saying such filthy jokes in the film about women because of his two young daughters at home.” Good to know he has completely sold himself out. Ugh—What a shame and a waste of two and a half hours I will never get back.

  11. Nancy, you horrify me! I cannot imagine what could possess any parent to allow a child to see this film. I hope that Sandler and Apatow (who not only has two young daughters but put them in the film which I hope he does not let them watch) are inspired by being fathers to make movies that treat women like human beings.

  12. Hi, Allison — nude women (breasts and buttocks) in fairly explicit sexual situations. Male nudity is implied but nothing is shown.

  13. Nell,
    Great review as always. Yeah, I was a bit disappointed with this one. Apatow really amped up the crude humor (I can’t even remember one clean joke!). His previous works were much better.
    And the overall message (though portrayed well at the beginning as you stated) got seriously lost due to its length and unnecessary story lines.
    Definitely an adults only, and only those that aren’t offend by REPEATED crude jokes.
    Tom Clocker

  14. Thanks, Tom! I think Apatow is considered such a reliable money-maker that no one will tell him that the movie needs to be cut and better focused. And have better female characters. And this movie should have ended five minutes earlier.

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