A Review of Funny People

This film could have been Judd Apatow’s greatest accomplishment.  The first half demonstrated this fact.  The audience was introduced to likable characters and a very funny look at the world of stand up comedy.  And then the film took it’s characters away from LA to Northern California.  And almost everything went wrong.

The film follows two characters, George Simmons and Ira Wright.  They are both envious of each other.  Simmons  (Adam Sandler) is a very successful but not very well respected comedian.  He stars in a variety of comedies that are neither particularly funny nor particularly creative (and resemble Sandler’s real output to such a degree that the films hardly seem like parody.)  Ira Wright is a comedy writer who lives with two semi-famous comedians.  He wants nothing more than to get a big break.  Simmons sees Wright performing at an improve  night and hires him to be a writer for him.  Simmons also informs Wright that he is dying of leukemia.
I will save the discussion of the second film for later.  Right now, I want to focus on what the main draw will be for many..Adam Sandler’s performance.  Sandler has long been derived in Hollywood for his comedies.  And, frankly, for good reason.  Sandler seems content to produce the same low brow comedies again and again.  I believe it was the Daily Telegraph that referred to Adam Sandler as the “Chauncey Gardener of the barf joke.”  You will get no argument from me.

I left the film with a much different opinion of Sandler.  Sandler merely does it because that is what the public expects him to do.  Simmons hates what his life has become.  He has money, but he is without friends.  “You’re my best friend” he says to Ira “and I don’t even like you.” Simmons goes to comedy clubs and performs stand up, at one point bombing with a sort of desire for death.  He also sings a song about how the world “expects too much of him.” Some of it is funny (I particularly enjoyed a segment about how he shared his name with the family dog) but for the most part, he seems content just to say rather than perform.  He is a lost man.

Sometimes, great performances can be completely autobiographical.  And Sandler’s was…great.  I sympathized with his plight.  I wanted him to break free.  I wanted him to maybe discover the best things about himself.  Is this Oscar worthy?  I don’t know.  Sandler did get some buzz, but it is highly unlikely.  After all, Sandler gets as much respect as Simmons.

So, that was the strength of the film.  And then…they take him to Northern California to reconcile with the one girl he loved, Laura (Leslie Mann).  This didn’t feel like the same film that I had been watching. This didn’t even feel like it was playing in the same theater.  I had no idea what the film was trying to accomplish with this drastic change.  We learned nothing about George that we didn’t already know.  We gained nothing about Ira.  The only highlight was Eric Bana’s brief performance.

Does this really ruin the movie?  No, it is still amusing.  I just cannot for the life of me find the purpose of it.  It is the equivalent of painting a painting of, say, a toilet.  It may be very well painted.  You may be able to see the individual brush strokes and see the artist’s mastery of the subject.  But what is the point?  Such talent being wasted on such a boring subject.

So, the film is a bit of a let down.  I declared Apatow’s Knocked Up the best film of 2007.  I still stand by this proclamation.  So I went into the film with high hopes.  And I was ultimately let down.  This is not the best film of the year.  But is it still worth seeing? Absolutely.  This is Adam Sandler’s best performance and hopefully will cause a similar career renaissance that Billy Murray underwent ten years earlier (in a film, surprisingly enough, with Jason Schwartzman).  Seth Rogen delivers laughs, and the first half of the film contains some of the most touching scenes this year.  Too bad the film fumbles the ball at the one yard line.

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