"Funny People" is bizarrely amusing

Aug. 4, 2009, midnight | By Mandy Xu | 11 years ago

Apatow delivers a smart, unexpected comedy

Comic king Judd Apatow returns with the new film "Funny People," showing a somber, dark side of his directing fans will find unfamiliar. The critically acclaimed director made his mark with the box office hits "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." Indeed, there is no doubt "Funny People" is an Apatow film - his work is highly stylized and easily recognizable - but here, it takes on a new, refreshing flavor. While Apatow usually focuses on often crude humor, this film sets a more quirky tone guaranteed to induce laughter in the audience.

This comedy follows the conceited yet successful comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler). When Simmons discovers he is dying of leukemia, he decides to reform his empty life. After meeting struggling stand-up comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) at a comedy club, Simmons hires Wright to be his secretary and write his jokes. Grateful to be getting his big break, Wright slowly builds his confidence and quits his dead end job, much to the chagrin of his well-off eccentric roommates Leo Koeing (Jonah Hill) and Mark Taylor Jackson (Jason Schwartzman). Simmons has just begun to fix the mistakes in his past, when a piece of sudden news threatens to undo everything for which Simmons has worked.

The most engaging sections of the film are the scenes containing stand-up acts, which are lamentably infrequent and short. Apatow cleverly injects his personal experiences with stand-up into the film, making these scenes feel organic. He masterfully captures the atmosphere of a comedy club: the friendly and aggressive competition behind the curtains, the anxious state of novice comedians, the clumsy stage lighting, the awkward silences from the crowd and the roaring applause.

Sandler's role showcases his versatility, revealing all sides of Simmons to the audience. Sandler plays Simmons's absurd fictitious roles, such as a grown man turned baby, as tongue-in-cheek self-parody, leading to resounding laughter in the theater. At the same time, Sandler proves to be a force as he truthfully portrays an extremely successful man emotionally and physically coping with a life terminating disease. He shows us the life of a character both egotistically bitter and kind, believably capturing both sides of a complicated man.

The supporting cast is another treat for the audience. The slimmer Seth Rogen and ever chubby Jonah Hill reprise their roles as sensitive and oblivious guys, respectively. Rogen, Hill and Jason Schwartzman prove themselves an amply talented supporting cast. Each actor delivers his lines with wit and skillful comedic timing. The cast members have great chemistry and work well off each other.

Regrettably, the ultimate downfall to this film is its plot. At 140 minutes, the film feels stretched out as we reach its end. It begins as a raunchy comedy with uniquely funny vulgar jokes and sexual references that are typical of an Apatow film. It turns bittersweet as it probes into George Simmons's personality. But by the final act, the film begins to fall apart. Simmons decides to chase after Mable (Maude Apatow), a married woman he lost long ago and the plot quickly descends into cliché.

Ironically, despite the title, "Funny People" is the most serious of Judd Apatow's work. Unfortunately there are clearly certain cold and uncomfortable scenes as a result. An unnatural scene occurs when Simmons rudely laughs at Mable's daughter's beautiful rendition of Memory from the Broadway musical "Cats." The director's desire to make films with more of a message here turned uncouth and could have been executed more elegantly.

Though "Funny People" is the weakest of Apatow's directorial works, the film is still clever and charming. "Funny People" perfectly parallels an experience at a comedy club. It bears an entertaining, though rather coarse experience, complete with idiosyncratic characters delivering laughable lines and those occasional awkward silences from the crowd.

"Funny People" (140 minutes) is rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout and some sexuality. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

Mandy Xu. More »

Show comments


No comments.

Please ensure that all comments are mature and responsible; they will go through moderation.