Monday, August 10, 2009

#134: Funny People


Funny People
Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Released July 31, 2009

Have you ever met, or known, a stand-up comic? They're certainly a strange lot. I've known or befriended a few in my day, and the first thing that you realize after spending some time with a comedian is that they just aren't funny. I knew a guy who was pretty uncomfortable to be around in social situations. He was loud, kind of rude and never seemed to be able to engage anyone on a personal level because it always seemed like he was trying out material.

Onstage, when the time came to ply his craft, he was actually pretty good at what he did. Shit, the dude even won Star Search. But he was living proof that funny people, for the most part, aren't funny.

The same can be said for Judd Apatow's new overlong and heavy-handed film about comedy. It's weird, socially awkward and really just not all that funny.

Funny People was not helped by a confusing ad campaign that not only misrepresented what the audience was getting into (is it a comedy? is it a drama?), but totally GAVE AWAY THE FUCKING MAJOR PLOT POINT that Adam Sandler's character beats the potentially fatal disease that forces him to examine his life in the first place.

I'm sure you already know by now, but Sandler plays a version of himself named George Simmons, a once-hilarious stand-up comic who has gone soft over the years by whoring himself out doing terrible concept comedy films about mermaids and dudes who have been turned into babies. Simmons professional life has gone the way of Eddie Murphy and, well, Adam Sandler, raking in piles of money at the expense of his credibility.

Upon receiving the news of his imminent demise, Simmons is inspired to get back to his roots in stand-up. After a disastrous surprise visit to a comedy club, Simmons meets Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), an up-and-coming (and fairly unfunny) comic whom he hires as his assistant and joke writer.

This was all Apatow needed for a plot, but he takes what could have been an informative and incisive look at comedy, fame and celebrity (shit, maybe even mortality) as seen from behind the curtain and instead totally fucks up his entire movie by throwing in a ridiculous third act attempt by George to reconnect with The One That Got Away.

It's with this turn of events that Funny People essentially becomes Dicks, with virtually no character becoming likable or doing anything that isn't completely selfish or despicable. We're presumably supposed to aim our laughter in the direction of Eric Bana's cheating husband Clarke, but by the end of the movie, you'll have more sympathy for him than any of the other characters.

It's an unfortunate thing that Apatow decided to go this direction, because the first half of the movie -- while still mostly devoid of big laughs -- is still fairly interesting, ambitious and handled pretty well. Rogen pulls of a friendlier than usual character, and Sandler -- while a bit detached -- has the dramatic chops to bring Simmons' angst to life. Funny People certainly looks a thousand times better than any Apatow movie that has come before, primarily due to cinematographer and frequent Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski. Paired with tighter editing that does away with the typical Apatow-ian element that makes it feel like all the dialogue is being improvised, it's definitely the director's most "professional" work.

This tight editing is failed, however, by the movies absurdly long running time. Go see it with anyone you know... your best friend, your mother... and ask them when the movie is over which parts they would have left on the editing room floor. Chances are that the 20 to 30 minutes of footage they could do without might be different for each person, but each person's edit would more than likely result in a better film. Cut the ex-girlfriend, cut the James Taylor shit, cut the montage where George sings with his hired band. Hell, even cut the Eminem scene, probably the funniest scene in the movie but tonally stands out like a sore thumb. Give any jerkoff a pair of scissors and access to the negative and you'll probably wind up with a less boring film.

I realize my review sounds a little more harsh than I may have intended. It's not that I hated Funny People, it's just that I saw so much potential in it and was disappointed to see that potential squandered by the 90 minute mark. By going the direction he chose to go with his characters, Apatow winds up teaching them and his audience nothing about this world in which he has lived for the past twenty years. At best, the life lesson that George Simmons learns when all is said and done is essentially "I should be less of a prick."

For more on Funny People:
- Movie information at IMDB
and Wikipedia.
- Check out the fake NBC homepage for Yo Teach!, the terrible sitcom that stars Jason Schwartzman's character. A similar fake page exists for the works of George Simmons.

The trailer can be found HERE.

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