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Movie Review: Funny People

July 30, 2009

Apatow and company grow up and deliver an engaging movie

funny-people-posterComedy juggernaut Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) draws on personal experience for his latest foray into funnyland.  Apatow briefly flirted with a career as a stand up comedian, and he was roommates with Adam Sandler, so he knows a thing or two about the world of a stand up comedian.

Funny People combines drama and comedy to tell the story of George Simmons, an immensely successful comedian played by Adam Sandler.  He has a huge house, notoriety, and a bevy of beauties at his disposal at all times.  When he is diagnosed with terminal leukemia, he is faced with the reality that he has no real friends or family relationships to speak of.  He spots Ira, an aspiring comedian,  (played by Seth Rogan) at a comedy club and decides to hire him to write jokes and be a personal assistant.  An enthusiastic Ira eventually becomes George’s best (and only) friend, and shoulders the burden of being the only person who is privy to the diagnosis George has been given.

While he is dying, George reaches out to people including his family,  comedy acquaintances, and his former girlfriend (and true love of his life) Laura (played by Leslie Mann, real life wife of director Judd Apatow).  She’s the one that got away, and we come to find out that he cheated on her when they were a couple.  Conveniently, her Australian hottie-husband (Eric Bana) is putting her through the same thing now, so she is emotionally vulnerable and open to reconnecting with her former flame.  George then discovers that an experimental treatment has caused him to go into remission, giving him a new lease on life, so to speak.  Has he truly learned any life lessons, or will he just revert to his old ways?

Funny People boasts a cast of some of the best comic players today, including Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman (who also provided the film’s score), and  Aziz Ansari.  As a fellow stand up and Ira’s potential love interest, Aubrey Plaza  (Parks and Rec) stands out among the largely male dominated cast.  Some pretty awesome cameos (which I will not spoil) are peppered throughout as well.

The film is most fun to watch when it allows you to peek into the life of a comedian.  It feels very authentic, and this is where Apatow’s past experience comes into play.  Ira lives on a pullout couch in the middle of an apartment with roommates Mark (Schwartzman) and Leo (Hill).  Mark has just scored a role on a crappy sitcom called Yo, Teach.  He flaunts his $25,000 weekly paycheck around his  struggling roommates and beds young starf***ers who latch onto the upwardly mobile actor as their own claim to fame.  The apartment banter is hilarious, and I think it would be realistic.  When you have to make jokes for a living, you don’t talk like a normal person, you stay in character.   I found their repoire utterly convincing. I also loved seeing how jokes are written on a napkin or notepad then fine-tuned later.  Good comedians make it look easy, but this movie shows how hard it is to come up with a measly 3-minute routine.  I have a profound new respect for the profession.

Apatow uses old films of Sandler performing stand up  and some footage of them both making prank calls when they lived together, which adds even more authenticity to the story.

The performances are great.  Adam Sandler redeems himself for past mistakes and churns out a gut-wrenching portrayal of a man who believes he is dying.  Rogan snagged my loyalty in Observe and Report earlier this year, and he just confirms that he is a highly underrated actor.  He has enormous heart in this role, and I simply can’t imagine anyone else being as convincing in this role.

There has been some talk of this movie being too self indulgent, that Apatow shouldn’t have cast his wife and kids in the movie, that he should have cut a lot more out, etc.  Yes, it’s a long movie, and yes it could have had a little whittled off of its running time (it clocks in at 2 hours and 24 minutes), but it is still a damn enjoyable movie.

It’s not as though Leslie Mann is miscast.  She is age appropriate, she’s funny and she is a very good actress, so why not put her in the movie?  As for the kids, hey, if I was director who needed two children  to cast in my movie, I’d probably throw my daughters in as well. They do a fine job.

I’m a lot more inclined to respect a director who chose to cast his family in his movie and *gasp* spent time with them instead of the 90% of them who are screwing around with the fembot that they hand picked to be in their movie because of her cup size instead of talent range.  If  that makes Apatow a bad director, I’ll be swimming in the cesspool of bad cinema with him from here on out.  Lighten up, people.

Frothygirlz rating 8.5/10


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