Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Third Time's Charming Enough

Funny People

Release: 07.31.09
Rated R
2 hours, 16 minutes

Full Price

Ira Wright (Seth Rogen, Observe & Report) is a struggling comedian who makes ends meet by working at a deli counter. During open mic night at the Improv, Ira's set is bumped by an impromptu set by his idol, veteran comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler, Spanglish). George's appearance is precipitated by his shock at learning he is dying of terminal leukemia. After an awkward exchange post-show, George offers Ira a job as his joke writer and personal assistant. George is looking to turn over a new leaf before it's too late and Ira's looking for his big break, but neither can handle what they find.

Aside from Sandler and Rogen, the latest story penned and directed by Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin) features tons of great actors, in addition to Apatow's immediate family: wife Leslie Mann (Drillbit Taylor) and their daughters Maude (Knocked Up)and Iris Apatow (Knocked Up). Ira and his more successful buds, Mark (Jason Schwartzman, I Heart Huckabees) and Leo (usual suspect Jonah Hill, Superbad) oscillate between witty bantering and bitter bickering as if they were goofy, annoying roomies in real life. Eric Bana (Munich) plays Mann's husband Clarke, having a blast while using his Aussie accent (for a change). The film has many other funny people in small roles like Aziz Ansari (Observe & Report) and Aubrey Plaza (TV: Parks & Recreation), but the film has a metric ton of awesome cameos from comedians, actors and musicians from Apatow's personal Rolodex. If anyone tries to ruin more than one of these, you should promptly punch them in the face and proceed to the theater to savor the hilarity for yourself.

Funny People is strongest when illustrating the comedians' varied lifestyles. Ira struggles to hone his craft while eking out a living and a life. Then there's Mark's shameless TV stardom and the lifestyle it affords him. Both seem insignificant when compared to George's level of paparazzi celebrity, which have blessed him with insanely plush trappings. In contrast, Ira is far more honest and emotional than George has ever been. This often strained relationship feels grown from a cornerstone of reality from a writer who's familiar with the challenges of a comedian's rise to fame.

What also rings true is George's desire to reconnect with his one true love. Here's where Funny People falters. I loved watching Mann, Bana, Rogen and Sandler make dramatic comedy on the subject of infidelity and second chances, but it adds significant length to an already lengthy story. I have to admit, the Apatow daughters are adorable, but it's obvious that daddy was not impartial enough to leave many of their extraneous scenes on the cutting-room floor.

Dirty Undies
I wonder if Apatow is looking to break some sort of record for the most times someone says fuck or refers to their dick. By the time Funny People ends, I felt I could describe, in disturbing detail, the width, length, blemish and curve of every star's cock. It's not because they whipped them out for measuring; they just referenced them so frequently you can't help but form an unimpressive image in your mind. Apatow makes a feeble attempt to detract from the cock talk with a nice pair of boobs, but once you've got a picture of Rogen's thickie etched on your mind's wall, there ain't no washing it off.

The Money Shot
Funny People has a biographical, possibly autobiographical, quality. It's this realism that makes an Apatow film more rich and accessible than a typical goofy comedy. But his third cinematic child suffers from a lack of tough love necessary to make it extraordinary. Despite these small stumbles, watching comedians shuck and jive in even the worst of situations makes for solid cinema.

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  1. Couldn't agree with you more. Sorta felt like Apatow had two movies in mind, and couldn't decide which one to make so he jammed 'em together into one big 'ol cinematic remix.

    A pity, since the idea to make a movie about how comedians live and work seemed pretty darned fascinating!

  2. I was really digging the backstage voyeur vibe I was getting with the first half of the movie. If only he had stuck with that premise and left the lovey-dovey redemption for a sequel or something.

  3. I definitely agree about the two different plot ideas jammed together.

    I was expecting a very deep and touching comedy, but it did not quite work out. Very disappointing.

  4. The dram was disappointing, but Apatow still came thru with the comedy which makes it worth watching.