DVD Review: Funny People
- Monday, January 25, 2010
Writer-Director Judd Apatow's third film fared poorly at the box office and with many critics but I hope he won't be discouraged for this anomaly; the film is a risky effort at engaging the psyche of entertainers, specifically comedians who have a love-hate relationship with their audience and the people around them.
I am especially interested in Apatow whose first two films, The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up were unique mixtures of foul-mouthed comedy and moral parables. Both concern men who are challenged to grow up and take on the responsibility of adults when they'd rather stay adolescents either out of fear or convenience. Though the films feature dope smoking, fornication and amazingly colorful profanity, Apatow's vision is deeply conservative in his insistence on the superiority of sex within marriage and taking responsibility for seeing an out-of-wedlock pregnancy through to term. I feel a small debt of gratitude for Apatow's unique sensibility; I wrote about the first two films for Breakpoint a few years ago and the article was later reprinted in a textbook collection of article on writing about popular culture. Thus I was interested in Apatow's most recent film.
Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, an Adam-Sandler type comedian who learns he has a form of lymphoma that will probably kill him soon. The millionaire entertainer grow despondent at his fate but has no one to confide in. One night at a comedy club, he sees a young new comedian, Ira Wright, played by Seth Rogan, trying out his stand-up act and hires him to write some jokes for him. Soon, Simmons makes Wright his all-purpose assistant, but it quickly becomes apparent, that George has actually hired Ira to be his friend. He asks Ira to sit by his bed while George talks until he is able to sleep. At the same time Ira can see that George uses his talent to express a thinly concealed hostility, his insult jokes have the bite of passive aggression. Apatow and Sandler have been friends for many years and are drawing from their experience in the comedy business where one may have many colleagues but few close friends. Apatow says in the special features production diary that he made the film to express the importance of not letting one's work overwhelm one's relationships with family and friends, a problem he acknowledges that he wrestles with.
Because of the nature of George's plight, the plot isn't as rollicking in its humor-in fact it's as much drama as comedy and this may explain the film's lack of success-audiences primed for more of the same got a reality check when they encountered Apatow's hero coming to terms with the prospect of his death and the limitations life imposes on us. The ending is not hopeless but wise and sober. Like his earlier films, Funny People is peppered with profanity and two brief sex scenes that are deliberately non-sensual. If you can handle that kind of content, you might check it out.
Posted by Alex Wainer.
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