Directed by: Judd Apatow
Premise: A successful comic actor (Adam Sandler) is diagnosed with a terminal illness. He hires a struggling standup comedian (Seth Rogen) to be his assistant while he undergoes an experimental treatment and tries to reconnect with his long lost girlfriend (Leslie Mann).
What Works: The first thing to understand about Funny People is that it is not a comedy, but a drama about comedic people. And while there are laughs to be found, many of them are in reaction to the serious dramatic scenarios that the characters find themselves in. Funny People is a look into Hollywood and the downside of success, but it is also about the life of the comedians. For the many comic characters in the film, comedy is clearly a coping mechanism for other deep-seeded issues like strained parental relationships, confidence and self image problems, or loneliness. The film does a nice job connecting the work of the comedian to the performer’s idiosyncrasies and exploring the consequences of dedicating one’s life to entertaining others. Adam Sandler is well cast as a darker version of himself, a sad clown who has starred in lousy movies that have made him rich but unfulfilled. The story takes some admirable risks with the character, making him a disagreeable–and in some cases awful–person. Redemption storylines often start with a character like this and then force him or her to change by emphasizing traditional values of family and friendship. This usually comes across as disingenuous and predictable, but Funny People is much smarter. This film takes the bold route of deliberately walking the character into clichéd scenarios, like confessing deeply held feelings to a long lost love or racing to find her at the airport, but then pulling the rug out from under the audience, subverting our expectations, and in the process revealing something much more complex and true about the characters and their attempts at self-redemption.
What Doesn’t: Like a lot of Judd Apatow’s films, Funny People runs too long. This film especially outstays its welcome with scenes that go on and on and could have been shortened or cut out altogether, such as a Hollywood party sequence which seems to exist only to provide celebrity cameo opportunities. Fans of Adam Sandler’s usual obnoxious act will not find it here and those expecting a sidesplitting comedy may be disappointed.
Bottom Line: Funny People is not the kind of picture expected from the talents involved. That should not color the judgment of the film, which is quite good despite some significant flaws.
Episode: #250 (August 9, 2009)