Funny People
Shouldn’t we tell Judd this one needs a rewrite?

Theatrical Release Date: 07/31/2009
Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, Leslie Mann, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Bana, Aubrey Plaza, RZA, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow

Putting Adam Sandler & Seth Rogen together in a Judd Apatow film and calling it “Funny People” sounds like a producer’s wildest dream/cash cow. Often though, dreams don’t come true and cows are tricky to deposit into ATM machines (if you think that joke is bad, wait till you see this movie).

The premise of the film is that Seth Rogen is a struggling wannabe stand-up comedian, living with two other comedians (Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill) who are finding more success in their careers. Meanwhile, Adam Sandler is a big name comedian whose fame and fortune rest on being goofy and using funny voices (basically himself, but for the purposes of the film he uses the moniker, George Simmons) who has a reality check come his way via a life threatening diagnosis by his doctor. Sandler then sees Rogen do some stand-up, hires him on to be his assistant to help with the day-to-day aspects of heading towards death and writing him some jokes for his return to stand-up comedy along the way. Doesn’t this sound fun?

Actually, the first hour of the film manages to have some poignancy, as Sandler’s portrayal of a mega-star who finds himself alone after years of parties, women and crass films is dead on. He clutches onto Rogen’s character, realizing that relying on strangers is easier in times of stress because if anything goes wrong, the relationship can be severed with few lasting repercussions. It’s when you start confiding in your circle of family and friends that things transform from theory into reality … and usually get a little messy.

Once this thread plays itself out however, Apatow’s script veers off into a whole new subset of plot points that will suck another hour and a half off of your lifespan. Yes, this “comedy” clocks in at 2 hours and 16 minutes! What’s worse is that I can’t fathom why in the hell the last half of the film needed to be filmed at all, aside from a really fun role for Eric Bana whose comedic talents have been ignored in American film (Aussies know what I’m talking about).

It’s as if Apatow was reaching a personal crossroads himself and thought, “Hey, before I depart this mortal plane, maybe I should make a comedy that’s almost epic in scale and tries really, really … really, really … really, really hard to be deep and challenges the audience in ways they wouldn’t expect (or want) from me.

And as a director, Apatow tried out some new things here that simply fell flat. Whether it was a newfound love for extreme close-ups (especially in the first thirty minutes), shooting his wife Leslie Mann in the softest light possible, or opting for some less traditional shot selection – they all found a way to pull me out of the film, disconnecting me from the story rather than feeling natural and adding some sort of aesthetic.

The cast often feels as pretentious as Apatow’s script and direction … probably as a direct result of those two things and it’s only because of their sheer charisma that I managed to stay seated in my chair. Sandler does okay in his role, though it’s a weird mix of many of the characters he’s played before – seeming to take elements from “Billy Madison”, “Big Daddy”, and “Click”. Rogen isn’t treading on new ground here either and Mann finds a way to make her role work – at least up until near the end, when it appears there was a switch in the character to make her subtly psychotic … it’s very odd and I’m not sure if it was intentional.

While I’ve reached my threshold on Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill (since neither seem to play anything other than themselves), it was nice to see so many other comedians here (albeit in one-liner cameos). The supporting cast includes the likes of Sarah Silverman, Dave Attell and James Taylor (yes, the musician) – who steals the scene he’s in – and even Eminem gets a chance to attempt comedy. If it weren’t for so many recognizable faces popping in and out of the film, my eyes surely would have glazed over far before I started hoping the film would start rolling the end credits.

Eric Bana’s inclusion (as well as that of Apatow and Mann’s real life daughters Maude and Iris) comes in the last quarter of the film and injected some much needed life into the project. Sadly though, as much fun as it was to see Bana ham it up and the girls brought more genuine emotion than nearly anyone else in the film, Apatow’s inability to handle dramatic segments of the film rears its ugly head again here and all the goodwill bestowed upon the film’s resolution gets lost.

While there were some funny jokes over the last 90 minutes (especially thanks to Bana and the bevy of stand-up comedians), the bottom line is that Apatow has overreached here and it created a bloated film that has ended his streak of successful films (we’ll see how it does financially but I’m calling this one a failure). I’m probably being a little harsh in giving “Funny People” a 1 out of 5 but I can’t seem to justify another full ratings point and I don’t do halves so a 1 it is.

Maybe this would have worked if Apatow had only been the writer/producer and given up the director’s chair to someone more well versed in blending comedy with drama … but that person should also have called for removing the last half of the screenplay entirely and just creating an ending for the first section … maybe then audiences would get what they want here and I would have had another hour and a half of my life to enjoy.

All I know is that I don’t want to see this one again because I’d rather spend that time curing a disease or flying to the moon – both of which could probably be accomplished in the same amount of time as rewatching the film (especially once it hits cable and adds on commercial time … without significant cuts, it’d take 3 and 1/2 hours).

So save your cash and skip “Funny People”. You’re far better off rolling that dough into the IMAX release of “Harry Potter 6” coming up this week, getting around to seeing “(500) Days of Summer” or waiting for the upcoming “Julie & Julia” (which manages to encompass a slew of story progression and character development without feeling as sluggish and unwelcome as Apatow’s latest venture).