Universal Pictures is incorrectly marketing the new film Funny People as an all-out comedy. Billed as the third picture of writer-director Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), the studio would have you believe that Funny People is just about well, funny people delivering hilarious one-liners and zingers.
Sure, the film has many inspired uproarious moments, but deep down, Funny People is about the true meaning of the most somber subject death and dying. Its a theme not meant for jokey references, but Apatow successfully made a movie that is so serious, its funny.
Meet George Simmons (Adam Sandler), a super-successful comedian who is so self-involved, he lives in a huge mansion alone. But George may not have enough time to learn the error of his ways for he has an incurable blood disorder and is given less than a year to live.
Enter Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a struggling stand-up comedian who works at a deli and is still in search of his elusive onstage persona. Iras identity crisis is reflective of him changing his last name from Wiener to Wright. The only common ground between George and Ira is their love of comedy.
One night, after performing at the same club together, George takes notice of Ira and hires the younger comedian as his personal assistant and opening act at his performances. The two men will eventually learn from each other in their quest for the true meaning of life. But thats just the first half of the film.
The second half of Funny People involves Georges old flame who reenters his life. Her name is Laura (played by Apatows wife, Leslie Mann) and shes the girl who got away. But theres one big problem. Laura is now married to Clarke (the hilarious Eric Bana) and theyre raising two children, Mable (Maude Apatow) and Ingrid (Iris Apatow).
The first part of Funny People is decidedly stronger than the second half. We get to meet George and Ira and discover their idiosyncrasies. This is also where we get to see an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the world of stand-up comedians.
But what ties the film together is the crazy but effective pastiche of smart, well-written characters and jokes. Mark Taylor Jackson (Jason Schwartzman) and Leo (Jonah Hill) are Iras roommates and served as the movies jesters. Mark is an actor starring in an unfunny sitcom, while Leo is also a stand-up comic who George calls Iras fatter version.
There is an intriguing juxtaposition in the film that showcases Hollywoods pecking order. On one hand, theres George, the big star, who has it all and can pay for anything he wants. On the other, there are Ira, Mark, and Leo who all dream to be like George but are still paying their dues.
To those Apatow fans who may be turned off by the auteurs suddenly serious turn, have no fear. There are still some immature jokes involving genitalia and passing gas. Rogens weight loss becomes an inside-joke as well, when Leo tells his character that hes funnier when he was fat. Watch out for cameos by other funny people such as Ray Romano, Andy Dick, and Norm MacDonald. Even Eminem and James Taylor join in on the party.
But Funny People is a mature departure for Apatow. For every vulgar joke, he gives you a social commentary that is not heavy-handed. Even the subject of death is used not for melodrama purposes but as a means to show the way of life.
If I have one minor complaint, its Manns character. Her sudden appearance in the second half is unwarranted and the narrative mechanisms seemed initially pushed. But hang in there because the actress has such affable charm that she will win you over.
Definitely winning us over is the combo of Sandler and Rogen. Sandlers obnoxious turn in last summers You Dont Mess with the Zohan is now forgiven. You will fall in love with the actor even if his character is self-absorbed. Rogen is the perfect foil for Sandler. He has the less-showy part but manages to be the heart of the film.
At 146 minutes, some folks may complain about the films length. But you will not hear such complaints from me. After watching Funny People, I felt I spent the last 2 ½ hours with my closest friends. Its bromantic dramedy at its finest!
And for that, Funny People gets 3 ½ very funny kisses