REVIEW: Funny People



146 Minutes // USA // Universal Pictures
dir. Judd Apatow
Friday, July 31st, 2009 – Silvercity Brampton
starring: Seth Rogen & Adam Sandler

The latest film directed by current comedy master Judd Apatow is Funny People – and for the second straight feature it stars Apatow original Seth Rogen (first seen in an Apatow production back at the turn of the century in acclaimed cult TV show Freaks and Geeks). Also starring former A-lister Adam Sandler and a few other Apatow regulars, Funny People hardly strays away from the convention that Apatow has set for his films. Although decisive in approach and down-pat with his fluidity of genre swapping, the rhythm he has created for his films that was once refreshing and genuine now detracts from his features.

Set in the heartland of the entertainment industry, Los Angeles, California, Funny People
creates its setting and character backdrops almost instantly. There are two parallel stories that are told before the meeting between George Simmons (Adam Sandler) and Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) that shows two contrasting views of the world they live in. On George’s side is the unwanted attention from admirers, a lost love that torments him and a blood disease that is slowly killing him – on Ira’s side is a new found love for a fellow young comedienne Daisy (Aubrey Plaza), a healthy esteem for his thinning body and worriment about what will happen next in his life due to financial difficulties. With relationship pressure that is unbounded from his semi-famous roommate of TV show ‘Yo Teach!’ Mark (Jason Schwartzman) as well as consistently aggressive jokes from fellow roommate Leo Koenig (Jonah Hill), Ira’s difficulties – while playful and majorly consumed by childish characterization – are far from the closure and easement he seeks.

A following night at the comedy club he and Leo frequent with new material, a depressed George Simmons shows up. Ira, who had just prepared in a quietly nervous fashion, now gets bumped for the formerly large star in a frenzy caused by the club manager. He now has to wait until George’s set is complete to do his few minutes of stand-up. Rushing past Ira as if he was nobody, George bursts onto the stage. With light banter followed by a grim uncorking of the dark history of the Holocaust, the crowd is silent and a depressed George seemed to have a miniature emotional catharsis. In an attempt to liven up the awkward atmosphere created by Mr. Simmons, Ira exchanges his subpar material for cracks at George Simmons’ mental state. After getting a few rises from the audience and coaxing the troubled aura, Ira sends the crowd home delighted. Well, all but one crowd member – George Simmons. Ira bumps into George in the parking lot and just after Ira exchanges kind words for ominous ones, George attempts to run him over… much to Ira’s delight.

The next day George phones Ira up – he wants some comedy material for a gig at the Myspace convention and knows he isn’t in any sort of state to be doing his newly acquired brand of humor. An ecstatic Ira accepts and he becomes George’s assistant. After plentiful awkward conversations and humorous mishaps, George eventually takes a liking to Ira and friendship begins to settle in.

Not to be out-done by indie features such as Juno, Funny People is the first Apatow film that is a realization of the new hipster generation. Although none of the characters are inane jabbering kidults, indie band references such as Beirut and Wilco are tossed around. Not to mention that the feature sports a varied soundtrack that blends classic tunes that remind George of his lost love with indie-folk songs that are played over softer moments.

After only days with George, it becomes apparent that he has no friends; no one to tell the dreadful news of his expected departure to; no one that would earnestly care. After masking himself from his family and old friends, George is found to be without anyone. All but Ira – his starstruck employee. George’s story soon becomes a character study of a man who’s about to die and who longs for the path in life he strayed away from. In his dying weeks he tries to change, but its clear that he’ll always be a product of Hollywood.

With the commotion of death lingering in the air and a bewildered comedian doing his best to impress his idol, Funny People becomes a humorous play on morality. Intact is all the humor from Apatow’s previous features, but the dramatic aspect is overplayed. At a staggering two and a half hours, this comedy pushes the envelope in just about every aspect and eventually does become an ambiguous project. Romantic affairs begin to flutter around the main characters like butterflies around Venus flytraps; comedic dialogue spurts from the most and least likely of places – ranging from abrasive Australian humor to the utmost raunchy cock jokes; and dramatic moments of epic proportions become as blunt and direct as a baseball bat to the face.

The most reckless writing that you’ll ever uncover in an Apatow feature is his loose grip on romantic fundamentals. Like most his film, he expects the audience to relate to the characters and their situations in order to create deep and thoughtful representations of real people. In a film where every character is unlike the average viewer, this doesn’t work and comes off as a clumsy attempt at recreating similar success. Especially George’s fascination and previous relationship to still admired Laura (Leslie Mann). He claims that she is the only woman he truly remembers and justifies that as true love – perhaps a sense of stability and a chance at resurrecting his pre-success existence. Tears are often shed over this lost, but not forgotten love, but nothing is ever truly explained. The few photographs that George stares at sparsely of Laura indicate that they had fun together, but nothing rationalizes his love for her – and especially not her love for him. To say that the film doesn’t properly explain why Laura still loves George is an overstatement – there is nothing fabricated within her character to justify love for George, which is extremely bothersome considering this is heavily hinted at towards the audience that this is an important role in George’s life. However, the scenes that involve George and Laura (sometimes Ira and Laura’s children) do give off a genuine vibe and do not detract from the flow of the feature – it’s just through analysis that these flaws pop out.

As per usual, Apatow’s feature thrives on humbled and humanistic performances. Rogen, Hill and Mann all appear in their third consecutive Apatow directed feature – Rogen is serviceable and typical in yet another very Jewish role; Hill is still tossing around crude language like a cat and a ball of yarn – violent, yet playfully; Mann soaks in her most thoughtful performance to date – hilarious, touching, sincere and above all she nails the dramatic scenes. One of those performances that I’ll hold in high regard for sometime. Then there’s Eric Bana and Jason Schwartzman – two excellent new additions to an Apatow feature. Bana playing an Australian character for the first time in sometime… at least in an American film. And, of course, Adam Sandler in his most mature performance yet. What his role in Reign Over Me lacked in subtlety, his character in Funny People
makes up for in strides. Sandler dominates the show and is truly remarkable in the more depressing stages of the film – an all-round performance that Sandler’s been waiting to get off of his chest for sometime now, I’m sure.

In the end, Funny People is a classical composition with a contemporary flare – unfortunately, composer Judd Apatow cannot contain all these differing components throughout the entire sonata. After the first half, the drama that was impressive earlier becomes exhausted and predictable and the romantic affairs start to wither and die in strength – the only consistency the film has are the jokes. Of course, no one doubted Apatow’s knack for humor – comedy is and always will be Apatow’s adhesive. [8/10]

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