release date: july 31st, 2009
production budget: $75 million
u.s. gross: $51.86 million
foreign: $19.7 million
yet another high concept, totally fictional, and perhaps sci-fi summer comedy, funny people has adam sandler playing a successful, popular, self-loathing stand-up comedian turn movie star.
written, directed, and co-produced by judd apatow, funny people is 2 1/2 hours long, the longest of any apatow related or happy madison movies. it’s a daunting task for someone like me, who’s not only allergic to most happy madison productions but also thinks that apatow peaked with his tv shows (the ben stiller show, freaks and geeks, undeclared) and with diminishing returns with each new, longer movie.
the length is due to the fact that funny people is actually two movies in one. the first half has to do with sandler’s character george simmons, a former stand-up comedian now making dumb popular comedies, not unlike tracy jordan on 30 rock. simmon’s movies include one where he plays a grown man with a baby’s body (the wayans brothers’ little men) and one where he plays a merman (a male mermaid).
this first half, aka the better half, has sandler’s simmons finding out that he has a rare terminal disease that has a slim chance of recovering from. this news brings him to do stand-up in a comedy club, where he meets seth rogen’s up and coming stand-up ira wright. ira works at a deli and does stand-up for free. wright eventually becomes simmons’ assisstant/writer. the highlights here are the rza as ira’s deli coworker and james taylor as himself, performing at a myspace corporate event. we are also introduced to wright’s roommates: a fellow stand-up comedian played by jonah hill and the more successful comedian stuck in a bad sitcom played by jason schwartzman. there’s also aubrey plaza and aziz ansari, both from tv’s parks and recreations, as the love interest and fellow comic, respectively.
though this is the better half of the film, the snippets of stand-up performances are surprisingly tone deaf. instead of the more realistic reactions from the audience, there’s not much at stakes here. the film doesn’t seem to show the highs and lows most comedians go through of being on stage. the audience are either laughing or remain dead silence. it’s as if we are supposed to be appreciative of being able to see sandler and rogen performing. surprising since apatow worked with ben stiller, garry shandling, rosanne, and will ferrell. surely, they have enough battle scars to fuel a realistic movie about doing stand-up. only schwartzman’s sitcom contains any elements of satire.
flawed as it may be, this half nevertheless delves (however safely) into the world of stand-up comedy. there are plenty of cameos of actual stand-up comedians (andy dick, carol leifer, george wallace, norm macdonald, dave attell, sarah silverman…etc). it’s no small feat that the film is able to make paul reiser funny and the best thing ray romano has ever done, in a scene with eminem.
unfortunately, the second half turns into a soap opera without any laughs. it devolves into sort of thirtysomething without the wit, insight, or any entertainment value. simmons’ miraculously cured in the middle of the movie, as with most well to do white male protagonist, he realizes his proprieties in life and goes back to laura (played by leslie mann aka mrs. judd apatow), an ex-lover whom he cheated on.
laura is now married to the hulk himself, australian eric bana. they have two kids, also played by apatows. as per formula, we are told that bana is cheating on laura so it’s totally ok for simmons to have sex with her.
perhaps because of the success of his previous movies, apatow seems to have free reign on the movie. it’s unfortunate since this is definitely a case where a more structured and tightly cut movie would have sufficed. the second half is so shapeless that there is nothing for the audience to do but to wait for the movie to end.
despite its flaws, there is a good 90-minute movie trapped in here. it’s admirable that sandler’s character remains unlikable throughout most of the movie, up until the last five minutes. it’s rather pleasurable to see sandler’s character getting beat up by the hulk. granted, it’s for going down on mrs. hulk and not for making crappy movies, it’s nonetheless enjoyable.
rogen’s character is the entry point to the movie yet he isn’t given much to do during the second half. the roommates and love interest introduced in the first half is more or less forgotten during the second half in order to focus on the sandler character. it would have made sense for the movie to have the forced happy ending and focus on the sandler character had it been edited by the studio but apatow seems to have total creative control here.
i don’t regret spending 150 minutes watching the movie, it’s more enjoyable that any shorter happy madison productions. at the same time, paul thomas anderson was able to distill the sandler essence with punch-drunk love to greater effect in a shorter amount of time. funny people is about an hour too long.
speaking of funny people, mitch from the video vacuum’s funny people review
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