This is a bit of a hard review to write.
On one hand, I liked a lot of “Funny People,”* Judd Apatow’s look at death and dying. Adam Sandler gives a great performance as schmuck comedian George Simmons, who discovers that he’s got a rare blood condition that will kill him.
George is a wildly successful actor, but once he gets his diagnosis, he returns to his roots as a stand-up and discovers Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a struggling comic who is still trying to find his style (and become wildly successful himself).
George hires Ira to write some jokes for him, which quickly turns into George paying Ira to be his buddy/personal assistant. There is a good friendship there, but there’s also a lot of tension, because Ira wants to be honest with *friend,* but you can’t always be honest with your boss.
That evolving relationship (and its turbulent ups and downs) is the best part of the movie, but like other Apatow movies, the side characters and their stories just don’t interest me. Ira’s buddies and his crush on a comedienne really drag the film down, contributing to one of the bigger faults: at 2 hours, “Funny People” is just way too long.
Most of the excess comes from the side plots that really don’t need to be there and over-indulgence in comedy scenes, which are supposed to be painfully unfunny (and are unfunny). It’s a flaw he keeps going back to in his films, and I hope he can eventually get it out of his system. He’s a decent storyteller, and pretty funny one, but success is not helping him grow.
Better luck next time, Judd.
“Funny People” (2009)
Written and directed by Judd Apatow
Starring: Adam Sandler (George)
Seth Rogen (Ira)
*Spoilers ahead in my review addendum
One of the reasons I’m not completely willing to write “Funny People” off as a failure is how it deals with death.
Yes, George goes through the tropes of death in the movie: he takes stock of his life, doesn’t like what he sees, and at Ira’s urging, reaches out to some people from his past to make amends and say goodbye. We’ve seen all this before (and will likely see again), but what is unique in George’s journey is what happens after he gets better.
In most movies, the cancer patient gets the “all clear” sign at the end of the film, and the audience is left knowing that he/she will be a better person for having come this close to death. Here, we get to see George cope with being prepared for death, but getting that second chance. How do you go on when you were sure you were done?
George goes on by reverting back to himself, the schmuck we met at the beginning, which is probably closer to real life than a miraculous transformation of other movies.
I’ve never seen that before, in movies or television, and it’s why I’m not willing to give up on Apatow’s films, even the flawed ones.