Don’t let the trailers fool you, Funny People isn’t the movie you’re seeing advertised. It’s unfairly misrepresented in the previews. I’m not saying that the trailers make the film look good and in turn it’s bad, I’m just saying that what appears to be a light-hearted comedy is more of a deep and dark ride through a few people’s lives that happen to be funny. Funny People delves into a much darker place than Judd Apatow’s previous directorial material.
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is the world’s most popular comedian. He’s had a slate of successful movies and is living the high life. That is until he is diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Marching towards death, Simmons decides that the best way to deal with the pain and suffering is to die doing what he loves, stand-up comedy.
Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) meets Simmons at a local comedy club. Wright is an aspiring comedian who’s just trying to make it. During the day he works at a deli, and at night he’s telling jokes (usually not well).
It really isn’t clear why, but Simmons singles out Wright and hires him to write jokes for him and to basically be his assistant. Even faced with death Simmons still acts, for the most part, like a spoiled movie star who’s used to getting everything they want. It becomes more and more obvious that Simmons is learning nothing from his predicament, and instead is using his situation to manipulate the people around him. There are moments where we think that Simmons may be changing his ways. Scenes that really show that deep down he is a truly unhappy person, but that spoiled rich kid surfaces more often than not and keeps pushing down the true unhappiness inside.
Sandler is good here, but not great. While there are moments of emotion that he plays to perfection, he continuously reverts back to the old “Sandler voices” that have become burned into our memories from his older movies and his comedy CDs. Sandler has shown that he can do real, genuine acting in movies like Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me. But, here he is a bit of hybrid of his acting styles.
Rogen plays a more three-dimensional character. He was in danger of being typecast as the semi-stupid but funny guy in all those buddy comedy movies, but here he has more of a role to play. He’s conflicted. On one hand he wants to continue to pal around with Simmons because he’s getting paid outrageous amounts of money and he’s getting publicity for his own comedy. But, on the other hand he realizes that Simmons is not changing, and in some ways is becoming more of a pretentious punk as time goes on.
Simmons has one regret, a woman by the name of Laura (Leslie Mann) who is now married to an insane Aussie played by Eric Bana. In a formulaic film trying to win the girl of his dream back would probably play out easier, but Apatow has never fallen back on formulas. Instead his characters make hard choices and then have to live with the consequences whatever they may be. Life just isn’t black and white, but a variety of grays.
Funny People does suffer from its 146-minute running time. There are storylines and subplots that could’ve been completely deleted or scaled back to make the movie run 20 to 30 minutes shorter. The film has a lot of genuinely funny moments, but it also has some jokes that bomb. All the penis and ball jokes become a bit grating by the end, isn’t there anything else to do jokes about?
The funny thing about Funny People is that the characters, people who were born to make people laugh, never seem to laugh at much. Whenever Wright comes up with a joke for Simmons, Simmons always responds with a “That’s funny,” instead of a laugh. Maybe these people have been around so many jokes, that nothing is really funny anymore to them, they just know what makes other people laugh. Funny People made me laugh, and think. It’s deeper and darker than what Apatow has done before and like a comedy club, depending on the audience it will be greeted with cheers or jeers.