Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Movie with Abe: Funny People

Funny People
Directed by Judd Apatow
Released July 31, 2009

A movie with a title like “Funny People” is bound to feature characters that specialize in making people laugh. Spotlighting stand-up comedians is a great setup for a film, especially because comedians, especially those in a Judd Apatow movie, are likely to lead humorous, interesting lives. “Funny People” has the right idea with the story of George Simmons (Adam Sandler), a comedian slash actor who discovers that he’s dying. Trailers for the film made it look like George was training Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to be his replacement, but that isn’t really the story. It’s actually quite unclear what George’s motives are, and it seems he’s only actually looking for companionship. The problem is that it’s not a very fulfilling experience for Ira, and it’s not a very fulfilling experience for the viewer either.

Every time I see a movie directed by Judd Apatow or starring one of his regular actors, I can’t help but think of his previous efforts. Even if the premises aren’t terribly similar, the dialogue is very much the same, no matter who’s penning the script, and avoiding comparison is impossible. The last film with Apatow players, “I Love You, Man,” bares a strong resemblance to “Funny People” in the way that it takes an idea that sounds smart but doesn’t actually have enough steam to run through a whole movie. Audiences and critics have always stated that even the best of the Apatow group films are about twenty minutes too long. “I Love You, Man” was an hour and forty-five minutes. This one runs two hours and fifteen minutes. It’s way too long, but it’s hard to discern what should be cut out and what should be left in.

It wouldn’t inherently be a problem for the film to focus solely on George’s life, but it’s titled “Funny People,” not “Funny Person.” The notion of a comedian’s story and the idea of the world of “funny people” could work, but Ira just feels unnecessary. George is pretty much just taking Ira along for the ride and showing him what a celebrity lifestyle is like. Ira doesn’t have much to offer – he’s not particularly funny and he lacks the goofyness that generally makes Seth Rogen’s characters appealing. Jokes are made about how Ira has lost weight, but it’s clear that the intended benefactor of the joke isn’t Ira, it’s Seth. Following a comedian through his celebrity comeback tour is just what Apatow’s disciples likely dreamed of when they were just starting out.

Rogen has done the dramatic comedy well before, but here he’s saddled with an unenthusiastic role and no real opportunity to play either comedy or drama strongly. Sandler’s never been much of a skilled dramatic actor, and while watching him get sad isn’t as cringe-worthy as Jack Black crying in “Margot at the Wedding,” it’s not much better. Leslie Mann adds some worthwhile sentimental charm, but the real highlight is Eric Bana, for once using his native Australian accent. Without putting all his effort into sounding American, he’s actually a pretty funny guy who out-acts all three aforementioned comedy veterans. Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzmann contribute additionally to some of the movie’s funnier scenes.

It’s not a failure of a film, but there’s just not much of a hook. The movie runs one hundred and thirty-five minutes, but it’s not easy to decide where the movie gets derailed. It’s more likely that it was doomed from the start – it just isn’t a strong enough idea out of which to milk a movie. It’s never terribly interesting, and there’s never a sense of where it’s heading next or where it wants to end up. Unsurprisingly, the film’s conclusion isn’t very satisfying, and an occasionally enjoyable experience doesn’t seem overly worthwhile, especially compared to what audiences have come to expect from Judd Apatow when he’s behind the camera.


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