In Funny People we may have the delicious beginnings of a great collaborative team, Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow. The two, who were once roommates early in their respective careers, join forces here for the first time on the big screen (if you discount You Don't Mess With The Zohan, which Apatow evidently had some hand in writing) and the results are excellent.
This is the movie many fans of Sandler and costar Seth Rogan have been waiting for. Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Knocked Up were fun, uneven, and promising. And Zohan, of course, made Billy Madison look like high art. But both may be coming into a period of very good work. Funny People has higher goals than groin humor, though there's plenty of that if you're a south-of-the-border type. It seeks not only to tell a story, but the movie attempts to navigate some of life's more difficult regions like aging, facing death, and the issues surrounding the limits of friendship. And the movie dares to ask the question "What would you do if you got a second chance at life?"
Briefly, Funny People is a film about a, George Simmons (Sandler), a successful comic in LA and has a seemingly great life. But he feels unsatisfied with his apparent abundance. On the flip side is aspiring comic Ira Wright (Rogen). Ira does standup at the Improv paying friends to come hear him, and he works part time selling coleslaw at Otto's Deli. There is a sweetness and honesty to Rogen's character that becomes more and more appealing as the movie goes on. It's his most successful character to date and one with depth and emotion and you actually care about him.
Ira's roomies are Leo (Jonah Hill) and Mark (Jason Sachwartzman), both of whom are moderately more successful than Ira with women as well as comedy. And comedy is the thread of the film. All the characters are trying to forge comic careers in either standup or television while trying with equal fervor to bed women. Poor Ira is the caboose in this competition, but scenes with Ira and Daisy (Aubrey Plaza), though they underscore present a visceral awkwardness that rings true.
Ira and George meet accidentally at the Improv after George has been diagnosed with a terminal blood disease and thus we enter the "buddy" portion of the film. George initially wants an anonymous lackey, but discovers in Ira a sweetness and innocence. There is a moment when Warren Zevon's "Keep Me In Your Heart" plays when Ira and George are together, and it just works. For Rogen especially, this is new ground as an actor.
As George's ex-wife Laura (played by Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann) is radiant and funny. She strikes the real chord in a role that's often relegated to caricature. Her current husband Clarke (Eric Bana) is the caricature, a crazed white-collar Aussie. There is a tug back toward some of both Sandler's and Apatow's earlier films when he's on camera. And the movie drags a little here, and at 146 minutes it could have used a little edit during some of these sequences.
There is appeal in the fact that the lead actor is the character he plays (Sandler is a successful comedic actor). We are let in behind the closed doors and security gates of the Malibu lifestyle. But the more interesting aspect, to me, is the risk the movie takes to tackle the darker elements of growing older, facing death, and writing jokes that don't make people laugh.
Funny People ★★★★✩
Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann, Jason Schwartzman