Crude Humor Drags Down Funny People
- Friday, July 31, 2009
DVD Release Date: November 24, 2009
Theatrical Release Date: July 31, 2009
Rating: R (for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality)
Run Time: 146 min.
Director: Judd Apatow
Actors: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aziz Ansari
Early in Funny People, the latest comedy from writer/director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The Forty-Year-Old Virgin), we see comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) out in public, waving to the not infrequent fans who point to him, call out his name, and approach him to shake his hand or have a photo snapped. Simmons is a movie star, but he's also a stand-up comic who can blend into the background without bodyguards or an entourage.
Despite the adulation, there's an emptiness to his character, an isolation effectively captured by the great cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan). There's something weighing on his mind, and a visit to the doctor's office brings it to the surface. Simmons discovers he's suffering from a rare form of advanced leukemia, with only an 8% chance of survival. But it takes him half the movie to begin to reconnect with family and friends.
Sandler's Simmons carries a heavy narrative load in Funny People. He's not only dealing with a life-threatening illness and trying to make amends with those he's wronged in the past, but he's playing mentor to budding comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen). Ira lives with another aspiring comedian, Leo (Jonah Hill), and sitcom star, Mark (Jason Schwartzman), but he can't catch a break on the local comedy-club circuit. Pressed into service one night after Simmons has done his set, Ira catches the eye and ear of the older comedian, who enlists him to write material for an upcoming gig.
The professional relationship that develops between the two comedians is the heart of the first two-thirds of Funny People, and although the comic material is raunchy, it's hard not to root for Ira. His talent needs refining, but he seems destined for something better than his job at a deli counter. Simmons is another matter. He doesn't descend into maudlin introspection after being diagnosed, but takes out his hostility onstage, aiming it at bewildered audiences.
The character who experiences a life-threatening crisis and works his way through it is all too familiar. Remember William Hurt in The Doctor or Harrison Ford in Regarding Henry, part of a rash of early-1990s films showing how Baby Boomers dealt with life-threatening incidents and illnesses? Funny People updates the formula for Generation Xers, replacing the introspective soul-searching of the earlier film cycle with Apatow's crude jokes and a routine romance. The film also adds a mentoring aspect to the mix. However, there are no great lessons learned in Funny People, no take-away message of note. Just lots of below-the-belt humor that mixes uneasily with the inescapably serious life-and-death subject matter of the film. The closest the film gets to discussion of God is a joke about atheism and a song that includes a line about the kingdom of God being in one's hands.
Simmons' medical condition is resolved long before the film itself. To its tale of mortality and mentoring, Funny People adds a lengthy romantic pursuit involving one of Simmons' old girlfriends, Laura (Leslie Mann), who's unhappily married and clinging to pleasant memories of her earlier life with the comic. Despite some nice work from Mann, and especially from Eric Bana, who plays her spouse, this extraneous storyline pushes the film's running time past the point of exhaustion.
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