WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) used to be funny. Then he sold out and went from a sharp stand-up comedian to the kind of big-budget movie star who’s become known for playing such roles as male mermaids (a merman!) and a baby with an adult’s head.
When first we meet George, he’s diagnosed with a terminal illness and starts to reassess his life.
First he turns to the first love of his youth – his ex-wife Laura (Leslie Mann) – who gives him short shrift – so then he turns to the second love of his youth – stand-up.
He turns up at a comedy club where nervous newcomers Ira (Seth Rogen) and Leo (Jonah Hill) are waiting to go onstage.
George takes Ira aside afterwards and asks him to work on some jokes for him with Leo. Leo’s too busy, Ira tells him – soon become the envy of his friends as he becomes George’s trusted side-kick.
It’s Ira who’s there when George gets the good news that the experimental treatment he’s been having seems to have worked – just as he’s started to rekindle something with a sympathetic – but remarried – Laura.
Can he keep his good health from her, in order to woo her back? Should he come clean or has regaining his health turned him back from the sensitive softy to the self-centred celebrity.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Calling a film Funny People, you’re asking for trouble – but Apatow rises to the challenge.
He’s has developed a reputation as a writer/director of being able to deliver comedies that on the surface are as broad and base as the most low-brow Hollywood has to offer, while giving the characters the warmth that makes you want to jump into the screen and hug them and wrapping around them plots of sufficient depth that makes you challenge many of your own preconceptions of the world.
Funny People takes a step further away from the low-brow surrealism and roots its story in the real world – so real that Sandler is essentially parodying his own career path – once again shining in a dramatic turn that couldn’t be further from his real-life Merman-style roles.
The film is as sensitive and profound as it is bitingly funny – both personally and satirically – with well rounded supporting characters as well as an interesting and complex protagonist.
We can see and feel his tortured soul desperately trying to find a sense of completeness, but to paraphrase the oft-quoted axiom, the funniest people are often the unhappiest.
While many of the themes – the misery of the comedian, the dissatisfaction of wealth and fame, the longing for lost love, the craving for first love, the search for the American dream – have been visited many times before on the big screen, Apatow ties them together with a satisfying confidence and even the clichés – such as the dash to the airport – are presented with a fresh twist.
Rogen comes of age – turning from a comic to an actor, with complex performance, bringing together due reverence for his hero, disapproval of the way his lives his life close up and the most loveable jealous streak I’ve seen on screen in years.
By casting his wife (Mann) and their kids (as hers) as well as sticking to some of his other regular acting collaborators (Rogen, Hill), Apatow keeps the relationships feeling real – at times, it almost feels so natural as to be resemble a documentary.
One of the failings might be that necessarily, some of the supporting cast – Rogen’s Ira in particular – are more sympathetic than Sandler’s central character – and the film’s biggest weakness is its length. A film like this has no business being nearly two and a half hours.
Of course, the longer a film, the more opportunities there are to cram in gags – but it also leaves you open to the risk of sagging, and at times, this gets close – particularly during a visit to Laura’s home and a cameo-filled restaurant scene which might go down better in the US, where more of the faces will be familiar.
There’s much to admire in this film and it’s often the subtleties and the throwaway lines that ring the truest and stick with you – but after sticking with Apatow and his team for most of your evening, the inevitable ending seems to come out of nowhere and leave you feeling a little flat.
Perhaps the most flattering thing to say about Funny People is that the more you think about it afterwards, the better it hangs together and the more satisfying it gets, which is a rarity, with so many of today’s forgettable films.