Friday, 28 August 2009

Funny People - Review


I personally have never bought into the "Apatow era" generation of American comedies such as Knocked Up, 40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad etc. I can not give you an exact answer as to why, they have just never agreed with me. There are only so much obnoxious dick, fart and sex jokes one can take from Seth Rogen and co before it becomes tiresome and predictable. That said however, until recent years I have always had a soft spot for Mr. Adam Sandler, having made some of the funniest films I have seen while growing up, before being lead astray by making dull, depressing and unimaginative family films, I must admit I had totally written him off as an actor. Which brings us to Funny People, written and directed by Judd Apatow himself and starring, seemingly everyone he knows in his phone book. Going in with slight hesitation on the basis that the director's previous work does very little for me, I was actually pleasantly surprised with the resulting outcome.

Funny People tells the tale of comedian turned movie mega-star, George Simmons (Sandler) as he is diagnosed with a form of cancer. Upon hearing this devastating news, it leads George to reflect on his past achievements realising that though he has became rich and successful that he unfortunately has also lead an extremely empty, lonely and unfulfilled life. This sobering thought brings him to rediscover his original passion for performing live stand-up comedy again, where he meets young, down on his luck, amateur Ira Wright (Seth Rogen). Being impressed with the young upstart's performance, he then goes on to hire Ira to write jokes for his new string of shows and thus develops a strained yet close bond with his young protege as George finally starts to realise (as they all do...) that money and success is not what makes a person truly happy, but the better things in life such as family, friends and love.

As I said in the opening paragraph, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the warmth that Apatow put into the story, and found myself sucked in with a smile on my face, as it was a refreshing break from the usual clich├ęd rom-coms that have it so easily could have been. However, with an engaging opening two acts, it was a dreadful shame that by the film's closing 30 minutes that it started to drag and lose its direction. This is no fault of the impressive array of actors on hand but of Apatow himself, as the film was far too long than it needed to be, at a bum-numbing two and a half hours long. The highlight for me personally was the performance of Sandler himself, as he gave personally the greatest performance of his career, though he has been funnier, I find myself truly stumped to name a movie where he has been a better actor.

Similar possibly to Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler earlier this year, you got the impression that the character of George was written especially for Sandler, mimicking the man's career as one of the heavyweights of American comedy almost a decade ago being reduced to starring in bland live action family movies (Click? Bedtime Stories? The list goes on...). Outside of Sandler's experienced heavyweight performance, Rogen performed extremely well as the heart and soul compared to the rest of the movie's ambitious, back stabbing and self congratulatory characters. However both are blown away in the comedy department from stellar support appearances of the wonderful Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill and Eric Bana who I thought were absolutely incredible and where most of the comedy came from. One aspect of the film I think most audiences will love, is the endless list of cameos that appear in this film, from all the usual suspects of the American comedy circuits such as Ray Romano, Sarah Silverman, Tom Anderson, Andy Dick, David Attell to the slightly unusual appearances from Eminem, James Taylor to even Bryan Batt (who you ask?! From the excellent Mad Men of course) as George's camp agent.

Though Funny People was one of the more absorbing comedies I have seen this year, full of life, exuberance and just a lot of good honest fun, I felt I was a little cheated by the fact that it was not actually that funny. I thought for the most part it was a wonderful, enriching experience, I just got the impression that this was more an exercise of Apatow showing off his little black book of celebrity pals, filled with inside jokes such as Rogen's room-mates poking fun at the actor's impressive weight loss (in preparation for his starring role in the Green Hornet reboot next year) to as already mentioned the state of which Adam Sandler's career has now become.

Final Thoughts
Sandler, Rogen and co have rarely been better actors, before this really touching Summer heavyweight. It could quite well be the best serious comedy you will see in a long time, but in all honesty when one goes to see a film called Funny People, you want to find yourself laughing hysterically from beginning to end, and for the considerably unnecessary length of the film there just was not enough laughs to justify it. Judd Apatow has made funnier films than this, but honestly he has made few better than this. After being on the fringes for so long, you can only hope the only way is up for Adam Sandler after this touching and miraculous performance. Not perfect, but still worth seeing...

6/10

See this if you liked...
Knocked Up, 40 year old Virgin, Anchorman, and some of Sandler's best films Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore and even (slight guilty pleasure of mine possibly...) Big Daddy.

Funny People is available in all major cinemas now.

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