Before we get right into my thoughts on Funny People, let me preface by saying that I loved Judd Apatow’s first two films, The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. I would count both among the best comedies to hit Hollywood in the past few years, and I had full faith that he would hit another home run with his third directorial stint. I understand that he was ready to try something new and a get a little more serious, but looking back at his first two achievements I have to wonder: when the formula works so well, why mess with it?
Adam Sandler stars as George Simmons, a middle-aged comedian who's found fame and fortune thanks to a movie career filled with silly, Eddie Murphy-esque characters. His house is a palace, but George's selfish behavior has pushed away all of his friends and family. This leaves most of his social interactions with his personal staff, female conquests, and his fans. When George learns that he’s dying from a blood disorder, he decides to go back to his roots in standup comedy while taking on aspiring comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) as his assistant. As George assesses what could be the end of a lonely life, Ira slowly becomes his closest friend and sidekick.
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While George isn’t exactly the most likable character around, Adam Sandler does a great job of capturing his moody (and often downright mean) personality. The role is perfect for Sandler as it gives him a chance to shine as the effortlessly funny comedian we all know and love, but at the same time deliver a strong performance as an ailing man who is trying to change his life in the 11th hour.
Seth Rogen is equally impressive and perfect as innocent, puppy dog Ira. Rogen's no stranger to playing the everyman kinda guy, but this is the first time I feel like he's playing a role with no hint of sarcasm or arrogance. Ira could easily be mistaken for another lovable loser, but Seth shows that he’s so much more than that. There’s also something endearing about seeing Ira’s wide-eyed enthusiasm juxtaposed with George’s apathetic nature as they face the world of standup comedy as a team.
Beyond Sandler and Rogen, the film’s supporting cast provides a lot of life (and many of the laughs) to the story. Leslie Mann really brings out Adam’s sweeter side as Laura, George's "one that got away," and Eric Bana gets a rare chance to show his comedic chops as her bread-winning husband. Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman round out the group as Ira’s quirky and witty roommates. As an added bonus, Apatow and Mann’s daughters, Maude and Iris, are adorable as Laura’s kids.
As promised in the title, Funny People delivers jokes, and plenty of them. Granted, more than half of them are about the male anatomy and another large percentage are directed at Seth Rogen’s weight loss, but they're still there. The problem is that the laughs aren't free. George’s illness creates a dark cloud that hangs over the story, even when he learns that he has a good chance of pulling through. Apatow has your heart in his hands because everyone in the audience knows that there's a potential death scene lurking around every corner.
The movie has a lot of depressing moments, but what's even sadder is that the biggest takeaway of the film is the length. At over two and a half hours, the movie drags and is entirely too long. Apatow wanted to take his time to make his point, but by the end he had lost me and I just didn’t care that much about the film's final message.
Funny People has a lot to offer and isn’t terrible by any means, but it is hands-down my least favorite of Apatow's three films. I'd still give him golf claps, but there just isn't enough to earn a standing ovation this time around.
Photos courtesy of Universal Pictures