Ambitious in theme and length, with a much lower laugh rate compared to his previous work, Judd Apatow’s Funny People is his weakest feature yet.
Funny People stars Adam Sandler as George Simmons, a successful comedian who is diagnosed with cancer. It is a role which proves that Sandler the dramatic actor is more impressive than Sandler the comedian.
Not to say that there are not some laughs to be found in his performance. Many spot on observations on the tacky professional choices that Sandler and other comedians have made are spot on funny. Yet the moments where Sandler is faced with his own mortality and morality, while shaking the morose feel of death, are the ones worth remembering.
Co-starring is Seth Rogen as Ira, an amateur comic with wide eyed optimism. He is taken under the wing of the terminally lonely Simmons. With Apatow placing Ira as the films moral centre, it is through his eyes that the audience is made aware of the brutal of truths: to be a great comedian, you must be fearless; to be fearless, you must be an asshole.
Being the great modern cinematic moralist that he is, Apatow places his characters in an ethical predicament, as Sandler’s dying comic tries to win back his ex-girlfriend, play well by Leslie Mann.
Problem is she is married and has two children. Her husband is played by Eric Bana, who in a return to his comedic roots, plays up his Australian heritage to mad cap funny results. His hinted infidelity is enough leverage for the wily – and let’s not forget, terminal – Simmons to weasel his way back i her life. Again, fearless. Again, asshole.
Ira’s reaction to his mentor making moves on his married ex, proves that Apatow is a writer who excels at writing about varied relationships.
But while his previous films balance character, crudeness, and sentimentality, creating thoughtful and highly entertaining viewing, Funny People fails to do so on a constant level.
Its dramatic moments are good, but it is surprisingly disappointing to find that as a comedy Funny People falters, with its unhealthy cascade of dick jokes tiresome after its first hearing.
Length, too, is an issue. At 2 ½ hours, Funny People can be long and cumbersome, with a good quarter of this film deserving of the deleted scenes section in the DVD release, and not on the screen.
Blame should be shifted to a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, with Rogen and Sandler urged to bring their own material to the table in regards to their stand up routines. Cue the dick jokes, and the succeeding yawn. Apatow has done better with the lone writers cap.