Friday, July 31, 2009

Movie Review: Funny People

Despite the super lame poster, Funny People is actually pretty damn good.

Judd Apatow's third directorial effort opens today and people across America are either cheering or groaning. There is no middle ground with Mr. Apatow. You either enjoy his films (40 Year Old Virgin & Knocked Up) or find them to be sexist, crude, potty mouth adventures of slacker man-children harped upon by bitchy blonde women. Of course it's not just Apatow's two previous films that cause all the ruckus; it's also those he's simply involved with such as Pineapple Express, Superbad, and my favorite Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Hell, he even gets crap for films he's not connected with just by association with the same actors - I'm sure you heard lots of gripes about Observe and Report (which was indeed terrible, but did not bare the Apatow seal of authenticity). But, this director, who is accused of featuring various anti-women atrocities and chubby men dating hot women, is really just one funny man trying to make personal, meaningful and comedic work in a system that pumps out shit storm after shit storm of mediocrity, and for that I am grateful.

Funny People is the story of George Simmons (Adam Sandler), a wildly successful 40 year old comedian turned high concept family movie star. His fictional features include Merman, My Best Friend is a Robot and Re-Do with posters and clips peppered throughout the film. The only real world actor/comedian to compare the character of George Simmons to is, well, early Adam Sandler or maybe recent Eddie Murphy, just not as crappy. George has everything - the career, the mansion, plentiful brief encounters with much younger women and most recently he has a nifty new terminal disease.

Ira Wright (a thin Seth Rogen) is an up-and-coming young comedian who splits his time between the comedy club, working the grocery deli counter, hanging out with his two jerky actor/comedian roommates (played by Jason Schwartzman and Johan Hill) and not having sex with girls. Ira's is a simple life transformed one night after he follows a surprise appearance at the club by an odd and erratic George Simmons. Ira's clever improvs at George's expense makes a big impression and Ira soon becomes his assistant and joke writer. As George teaches Ira about the ways of the comedy world, Ira helps George with everything from joke writing to scheduling doctor appointments to watching George sleep.

Famous but friendless, George traverses a return to his roots in stand-up while experimental drugs weaken him, with Ira along for the ride he gets the chance to develop his own material. Jokes abound in Funny People, but the few dramatic scenes are no less powerful. Sandler can bring the drama, something hinted at in the highly problematic but moderately enjoyable Punch-Drunk Love. However fantastical, the relationship between George, who represents the old guard of comedy, and Ira, the young enthusiastic newbie, is the heart of the movie. The duo's not exactly Martin and Lewis, but they are charming, goofy and sweet together. I'm not sure if I would want Seth Rogen by my side while facing my imminent death, but here it makes sense.

Movies about stand-up comedy tend to fail at one really important element. The stand-up comedy usually sucks. Funny People manages to keep the folks ripe with humorous lines on and off stage - a very impressive feat. Yes, there are a lot of dick jokes...I mean a lot. Luckily, these particular wiener jokes are both original and amusing. When you view Funny People, whether it's at the theater, on DVD or completely butchered on TBS years from now, if you don't enjoy the stand-up in Funny People, you might want to consider lightening up. It's good stuff, people, trust me.

All, I'm saying is I'm the fattest, therefore the funniest, so you guys can suck it, OK?

While the first half of the film focuses more on the mortal peril of George and Ira's dedication to him, the second half turns into a family melodrama of sorts when the duo head up north to visit George's ex, the one that got away played by "Mrs. Apatow", Leslie Mann. What follows is a somewhat drawn out but the mood is lightened by some super cute kids and an intensely Australian and amusing Eric Bana as Mann's "always away on business" husband.

Some noteworthy celebrity appearances include a combative exchange between Ray Ramano and Eminem, Sarah Silverman doing an impersonation of her own vagina and Paul Reiser just being alive and in a movie. For a 90's stand-up fan like myself, seeing all these folks in the same room (Norm MacDonald, George Wallace & Carol Leifer) is frickin' heartwarming.

Like most Apatow characters, George is just trying to figure out how to be a good guy after many years of being an asshole. Ira on the other hand is more of the hero of the film and is focused on how to stay good. Funny People is a skillfully crafted work of a unique voice in American movies; it’s not art, but it should be enjoyed and celebrated. Apatow manages to make everything look and sound so natural despite the meticulously planned out bits and jokes. The comedy, the chemistry and even a few well-played dramatic parts - it all works. Apatow has made a slightly more mature film compared with his first two and it might even be his funniest yet.

Just go see it, already. Anyone you know under 30 is going to be quoting the crap out of it for the next five years and you don't want to be the one to say, "Wait, what movie is that from?" Conversational and cool suicide. Be prepared for this line to catch on, "Don't put me in this position where I have to fuck my way out of a corner!"



Funny People
opens tonight!
146 min
Dir.: Judd Apatow
Writ.: Judd Apatow
Starring: Seth "Zone Diet" Rogen, Adam "So Rich I Can Eat Whatever the Fuck I Want" Sandler, Leslie "I'm Fucking the Director" Mann with Jonah "I Totally Lucked into This" Hill and Jason "Really a Coppola" Schwartzman
Rated R for language and strong sexual humor and some sexy stuff.