Judd Apatow and the gang just released Funny People starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen. I tried to avoid reading any early reviews posted from viewers of midnight screening and the like so I could go into this knowing only the basics. I’ll say I was impressed and here’s why:
PREMISE: Adam Sandler plays stand-up comic turned professional comedy actor George Simmons. When George learns that he is diagnosed with a rare blood disease he tries to make the most out of the time he has left. Over the course of the movie he gets back to his roots in stand-up comedy and attempts to reach out to people to help fill his successful but ultimately hollow life. With the help of his newly hired joke writer (Seth Rogen) and reluctant support from his ex-girlfriend (Leslie Mann), George tries to reconnect with as many people and family members that he’s lost touch with as he tries to make sense of things with the time he has left.
HIGHS: Adam Sandler started to show his acting muscle in films like Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me. He’s got some underrated and underutilized acting chops that have developed way past the days of Billy Madison (to which, I think, we all are glad). I liked his performance but he wasn’t the main acting force in this film. Seth Rogen, who as Jonah Hill puts it bluntly in the film, is looking a little weird having lost the weight he had in previous movies – but is still funny. What I like about Rogen the most is how he plays the everyman character very well (especially in this film). IMO, it is very easy to imagine myself reacting to things the way he reacts to them so his realism comes through successfully (in a comedy no less). He also seems to be hitting his stride and I find him quite hilarious when ever he is having one of his controlled freak-out scenes. This movie has a few of them and Rogen reminds me of how John Candy used to react in similar stressful situations (I recall the hallway scene of Going Berserk and maybe it’s just me but I see more than just an occasional similarity to Candy in Rogen’s performances). Also, I have to say that I am starting to like Jonah Hill, who, like Will Ferrell, I didn’t like much in his first few films. Jonah seems to be so comfortable doing his scenes ‘improvised’ that even the most absurd and profound dialogue that he utters comes off very natural and fluid. He’s almost like a master painter…of profanities. Oh, and my personal favorite acting bit is Leslie Mann trying to speak in an Australian accent – it is unexpected, hysterical and (to me) it was the most side-splitting humor in the film.
Lastly in a few points outside the plot of the movie, another thing I found highly amusing is the random but welcomed on-screen appearances of major comedians like Ray Romano, and Dave Attell and a slew of other cameos. On a personal note, I enjoyed seeing Charles Fleischer (voice of Roger Rabbit). Also, I was mesmerized by seeing the old photos scattered through the background on the walls of Jason Schwatzman’s apartment and other locales – I was overjoyed to see the young photos of Bill Cosby, Rodney Dangerfield, Red Foxx and John Belushi…also in later scenes seeing George Carlin and even Jay Leno.
LOWS: ‘Funny People’ ran longer than the others Apatow has been involved with and seemed too long for what it was trying to accomplish, specifically with fewer main characters. The other films (namely Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Superbad) did a better job of cohesively holding a longer story together, but to be fair, they did so with more characters. I couldn’t help feel that certain scenes in this film felt disjointed. Other scenes seemed misplaced in terms of pacing and at times I felt the movie was having trouble struggling with the heavier emotional weight (which the premise of the story called for) and so they omitted the regular amount of Apatow humor. Sometimes I got the distinct feeling that the movie just wasn’t sure what it was trying to be or where it was going – some scenes that should have been serious were funny and vice versa. Also the much more moral laden storyline might have been too heavy of a plot device (Sandler and Mann’s previous relationship) to use in the movie when it was already given a semi-serious tone with Sandler’s sickness. Apatow films are known to try to sum up the movie with a lesson or moral in what I like to call a “What have you learned, Dorothy?” scene/sequence. They worked in his other films but, unfortunately in this one, it felt obligatory and forced. So much like most other comedies out there, the ending was wrapped up in an all too convenient and ‘Hollywood’ type ending that just kind of dropped off. This was set up as the type of movie where the main character is supposed to change because of his journey (like Ebenezer Scrooge for example), but unfortunately Adam Sandler just didn’t seem to learn anything from the ordeal. Finally, although Adam Sandler was OK in the film I really don’t think he drove the movie and I feel that he wasn’t needed. You could have put anyone else in his place and you would have gotten the same effect with at the end of the film.
RULING: While this wasn’t as funny as Apatow movies have been known for, the title of the film is a bit of a contradiction I think (unless you consider it a reference to the multiple cameos in the film, then you’d be right on). Personally I think Apatow took a bold step in making this movie, not just because it was a departure from the style of his previous films, but because it is based on the events in his life, and specifically his relationship with Gary Shandling (who, as Sandler portrayed, did suffer illness in real life). This film had a good amount of laughs for having the very mature plot/undertones and I believe this film is worth seeing despite some mixed reviews out there which incorrectly try to compare it to Superbad and the like. Overall, I like Apatow movies because they always, after their completely ludicrous plots and graphic yet poetic strings of hysterical profanity that make our parents cringe, try to give the audience a moral to take with them…kind of like South Park. This film had a lot of heart and I like that.
G-S-T Ruling: 3.5/5
G-S-T Seal of Approval: GRANTED
OK, for those of you still interested in things Sandler and Apatow and if you liked the above reviewed movie, then you’ll be happy to know this is actually the second Sandler/Apatow film that was released. Oh, you hadn’t heard??…click here to find out what their first film was, and enjoy:P