When I saw the posters for Funny People, I thought to myself, “Aw, Apatow finally gave his wife a serious role in one of his movies.” And then, the quirky-but-cute Leslie Mann doesn’t show up for the first half of the movie.
The thing to know about this movie going in is that it’s not funny ha-ha. In fact, the movie should be called Funny (not ha-ha) People or maybe Funny (Strange) People. Because that’s what it’s about.
Really, though, that’s what all Apatow movies are about. People love all the gross humor and all that, but what always supports that are characters. Strange characters trying to figure out what “normal” is–late era victims of a cultural revolution that left us knowing how to groom, how to behave, how, in short, to grow-up.
As a strange person, I kind of like that. I kind of identify with the 40-year-old virgin, the guy who knocked up the girl, and now the sensitive self-deprecating comedian who’s struggling to, uh, struggle less.
First up, though, I note for Knox’s sake that Seth Rogan has lost a fair amount of weight, and is looking pretty good. (I think he’s kind of good looking, in a friendly sort of boy-next-door way, but I’m not exactly qualified to judge.) And, his love interest is Aubrey Plaza, who is adorable but convincingly mousey in this role.
Unfortunately, people identify primarily with the gross humor, which means that Apatow is sort of stuck delivering that, if he expects to keep up the same box office receipts. But as the Farrelly brothers can attest, even that wears out. But if you’re not expecting that, and at the same time not put off by it, uh, this is your movie.
The story is that young, sensitive comedian Ira, living with two more successful guys (Jonah Hill as a better stand-up and Jason Schwartzman, who also has a composer credit on this film, as the handsome young sitcom actor), gets a sudden break when big-shot George Simmons (Adam Sandler) discovers he’s dying and needs a new assistant.
Simmons is a weirdo. He’s been very successful, and so lives a self-involved, shallow existence. In short order, Ira becomes his closest–if not only–friend. Ira ultimately helps him remake the human contact he abandoned on his way to success. Including, incidentally, Leslie Mann, who figures heavily in to the third act.
There are two obvious ways a story like this can end and I was rather pleased that this movie took neither of those two routes. If there’s a message here, it’s awfully close to that old saw attributed to Ed Wynn: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.”
Well, what can you say about this movie? It’s ridiculously better than the abysmal Punchline, the 1988 Tom Hanks/Sally Field vehicle, both in terms of being funny and in terms of being not incredibly painful to watch. It has a lot of funny parts, too. And it manages to deal with its serious topics in a fairly light-hearted manner.
And, typical of Apatow, he doesn’t take the easy way out.
Sort of amusingly, this is probably the least gross of his gross-out comedies. Most of the gross stuff is, well, comedians telling jokes, which is a lot less graphic than having those jokes acted out.
One thing I love about movies like this is that they can line up the comedians (Dave Attell, Norm MacDonald, Sarah Silverman, Charles Fleischer, Paul Reiser, Ray Romano, etc.) for the group scenes or montages, serious or funny, and it’s going to be cool.
One of the big problems with Punchline was that neither Fields nor Hanks were stand-up comedians. Their material wasn’t very good, and they demonstrated very well that being affable and even charismatic was no substitute for having stand-up chops.
Sandler, Hill and Rogan actually are (or have been) stand-up comedians, and Rogan does a nice bit of bad stand-up that demonstrates subtly, yet clearly, how his character grows (as a stand-up) over the course of the movie. Sandler also does a good job being the self-involved character who manages to be really, really self-involved.
When Mann shows up as the sort-of frustrated older actress (and mom of the same two adorable Apatow kids who were in Knocked Up), you kind of get an eerie feeling like all these people are acting a little less than remembering. That’s–well, either really convenient or just good acting. (As Groucho Marx nearly observed, it’s a lot easier to get good acting out of a comedian than good comedy out of an actor.)
Anyway, I liked it. The Boy liked it, even though it topped the 2 hour mark. I thought it was pretty tight despite the length. I had a little trouble with believing Seth Rogan was a stand-up comedian. I liked that he was Mr. Sensitive but I didn’t see how Mr. Sensitive could actually survive as a stand-up.
And that raised another issue that was really only lightly touched on. I mean, if all your friends are comedians–hardcore pro or wannabes–then it’s gotta be a bitch having a real problem. For one thing, that particular subculture (at least by reputation) considers jokes to be an acceptable response to things most humans don’t joke about.
I mean, the highest form of eulogy is to roast the deceased. I kept thinking about Andy Kaufman having a hard time convincing anyone he was dying.
I just wasn’t sure how someone like Ira could survive. Ah, what the heck. It worked for me. And I sort of wonder if the sensitive character, the one who turns up in these movies and seems so out of place for adhering to a traditional view of sex and relationships, isn’t Apatow himself.
Fun fact, though: Sandler and Apatow were room-mates, and the movie opens with some home movies from that time period.