- Rated R
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All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t doesn’t seem possible to make a movie called “Funny People” without actually being funny, but writer/director Judd Apatow comes awfully close with his latest film – a mildly dark seriocomedy that is so obsessed with proving Apatow’s growth as a filmmaker that it completely ignores everything that made his previous comedies so enjoyable in the first place. Don’t let the smoke-and-mirrors trailer fool you, either, because while the previews may have promised more of the same Apatow brand of humor, “Funny People” is a surprisingly unfunny film. That doesn’t mean it isn’t any good, but between the lack of laughs, the bloated runtime, and some questionable acting by star Adam Sandler, “Funny People” stands as one of the biggest disappointments of the summer.
Straddling the line between fiction and reality, Sandler plays George Simmons, a comedian turned movie star not unlike himself. After being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and given only an eight-percent chance to live, George takes a new lease out on life and decides to return to his first love: the stand-up comedy circuit. He fails miserably on his first outing, though, and so he hires a struggling comic named Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to write jokes for him and act as his assistant. Overcome with the emotional weight of being the only person who knows about his mentor’s sickness, Ira suggests that George reach out to his friends and family and make good on his past mistakes. When he suddenly discovers that he may have actually beaten the disease, however, George decides to make the most of his near-death experience by reconnecting with "the one that got away" (Leslie Mann).
The main problem with “Funny People” is that it wants to have its cake and eat it too. Though Apatow is clearly dealing with some serious material (death, loneliness, the pressure of fame), he still tries to cram as many dick jokes as humanly possible into the dialogue. Unfortunately, they just feel out of place – especially coming from a guy like Sandler, who’s never really resorted to the kind of raunchy humor that Apatow has built a comedy empire around. There are also two different movies vying for attention here, and though George Simmons’ brush with death is the main story, it’s the journey of up-and-coming comic Ira (and his exploits with his fellow comedians/roommates, played by Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill) that proves far more interesting. Apatow can’t choose between the two, so he sort of just combines them into one film.
What a mistake that turned out to be. Apatow’s movies have been known to run a little long, but the official runtime for “Funny People” is 142 minutes. That’s a mere six minutes shorter than “The Dark Knight,” a movie that actually needed all two-and-a-half hours to fully realize Christopher Nolan’s epic vision. “Funny People,” meanwhile, takes nearly 90 minutes just to set up the story, and when it’s finally over, you can’t help but feel like you sat through a lot of repetition and the kind of unnecessary material that usually shows up as a DVD extra. Had Rogen’s character been made the center of attention, and Sandler just appeared in a supporting role, it probably could have been a lot better. It certainly would have been funnier, as Rogen outshines the “SNL” veteran in every scene, particularly those with Schwartzman, Hill and newcomer Aubrey Plaza.
The film is also loaded with cameos (from Paul Reiser and Sarah Silverman to James Taylor and Jon Brion), but with the exception of a brief appearance by Ray Romano, none of them are particularly funny. I’m still scratching my head over the appearance of Eminem, whose scene alongside Sandler will likely go down as one the year’s most meaningless cinematic moments. Still, for all of the talent involved, you’d think that “Funny People” would be a lot funnier just by default, but the only actor who delivers a noteworthy performance apart from Rogen is Eric Bana as Leslie Mann’s workaholic husband. He’s easily the best part about the film, but unfortunately, he shows up so late in the game that it doesn’t really make a difference. Then again, having him around earlier wouldn’t have mattered either, because while “Funny People” has plenty of great bits scattered throughout, it’s the sum of these parts that doesn’t quite add up. It was a commendable attempt on Apatow’s part, but he’d be better off just sticking to what he does best in the future. Maybe he can start by remaking “Funny People” as a comedy.
Unrated Collector's Edition Blu-Ray Review:
Fans of Judd Apatow know that he always packs his movies with hours of bonus material, but they’re going to absolutely flip when they open up “Funny People” and pop it into their Blu-ray player. All of the usual suspects appear, including an audio commentary with Apatow and stars Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, alternate takes, a gag reel, and nearly two hours of deleted and extended scenes. And that’s only a portion of the stuff that appears on Disc One. Also included is a 75-minute making-of featurette, a faux-documentary on Aziz Ansari’s Randy character, complete musical performances from James Taylor’s concert and Adam Sandler’s jam session with Jon Brion, the Comedy Central special “Funny People Live,” and much, much more. This may not have been one of the best movies of the year, but it’s definitely one of the best Blu-rays.