Sunday, October 4, 2009

Film Review: Funny People (2009)

In the third film from director Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, an arrogant, hugely rich movie star with a legacy of dire looking “family” blockbusters that dominate the box office. Bored with his excessive lifestyle, we meet him as his doctor explains he has a disease that seems to be incurable. Put on experimental medication, Simmons looks for happiness in his time remaining by returning to his roots as a stand up comedian. Here he runs into Ira (Seth Rogen), and they bond as Simmons asks Ira to not only write jokes for him, but become his assistant after he confides about his illness. Eventually lives start to grow, and then spiral as George becomes obsessed with getting back his ex-wife, Laura (Leslie Mann), before its too late.

It would be fair to say I had high expectations for Funny People, but at the same time not really knowing what to expect. To its credit, parts of it are gut busting hilarious and other parts equally dramatic. I was surprised by the sheer amount of crude humour used in the many stand up sequences however, given that story wise, this was probably Apatow's most mature work. It still had the director’s confidently unique trademark mixture of crude and poignant.

The main problem was the film’s second half. When it declares George is able to get better, things get bogged down finding a conclusion. For as great as Eric Bana’s appearance late in the proceedings (as Laura’s overwhelming Aussie husband, Clark), there were plenty of clumsy elements and rushed ideas that just seemed unrealistic towards the end. Relationships turn on a dime and while I feel a lot of it felt true through most of the first ninety minutes, there are moments that threw me off in the final thirty. For a film this long - though it never once felt like it was dragging, it was surprising to see such rapid extremes that appeared only to serve to conclude the story as quickly as possible.

Definitely the character of George Simmons was well realised, with his fake films looking so horrendously bad, it seemed too perfect and ironic that Apatow's longtime friend Sandler, was the lead. He was great in that sense then, but I truly believe the actor did not have to stretch much when his true nature (i.e. cruelly humorous arsehole) comes out in parts of the film. Seth Rogen is very good as Ira. Playing more down to Earth than usual, this is probably his best performance I‘ve seen. Aubrey Plaza as a friend, Daisy, was a highlight and the sheer number of cameos was bewildering, but fun. Judd seems to like to cast his wife in his films, and it started to feel a little self-indulgent by the end unfortunately despite the gorgeousness of Leslie Mann. Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill were integral as Ira’s roommates, but nothing overly special - though their sitcom, Yo Teach! was the perfect Welcome Back, Kotter parody.

Overall it was a good movie, but with obvious flaws. The narrative - which made it feel like a film in pieces rather than flowing, and Judd's direction being the major culprits. Direction wise, it was pretty bad at times - at least compared to his previous film, Knocked Up. Any of the deeper messages explored are only really bubbling under the surface, and perhaps a second watch will help me realise that this film works better than I think it does now. So far then, Funny People is merely an applaudable - if a little clunky - achievement.

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