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Funny People (A Movie Review)

Updated: Apr 19, 2023

Funny People

Funny People


Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, RZA, Aziz Ansari, Torsten Voges, Allan Wasserman, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Justin Long, Elizabeth Banks, Owen Wilson, Andy Dick, Sarah Silverman, Carol Leifer, George Wallace, Norm MacDonald, Dave Attell, James Taylor, Paul Reiser, Ray Romano and Marshall “Eminem” Mathers.

Screenplay by Judd Apatow.

Directed by Judd Apatow.

Distributed by Universal Pictures.  146 minutes.  Rated R.

Sometimes a film’s title is so blatantly, nakedly courting a snarky rejoinder from movie critic that it almost seems unsporting to take them up on it – rather like catching fish in a barrel.

Therefore, I will take the high road… sort of… and keep my snark meter on low when I say this: there is not a single humorous thing about the maudlin, self-absorbed sad-sack characters that populate Funny People.

However if you enjoy two and a half hours (really!) of mawkish soap opera shtick punctuated by unrealistic whiplash plot changes and a nearly constant stream of dick jokes, then you may enjoy this vanity project.

Me, I’m hoping writer/director Judd Apatow will go back to watch The 40 Year Old Virgin to remember how he used to be able to direct a good comedy.

Of course the film was undoubtedly suspect right off the bat, because this is one of those movies which are trying to convince the world that Adam Sandler can be a serious dramatic actor.  I’ve already been conned by the horrible Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish, which was okay if not for Sandler.  They aren’t fooling me again.

It’s no surprise that Sandler is not up to the dramatic heavy lifting required here, but what is shocking is how far some other very talented actors around him are dragged into the muck with him.  Seth Rogen, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Bana and especially Apatow’s normally likable wife Leslie Mann are stranded here with ridiculous characters and an absurd plot.  The fact that they each do occasionally get off a good line – and most all of them do periodically – does not make up for the fact that every single one of them is an unlikable asshole who probably deserves every bit of misery that they are constantly wallowing in.

The plot is well-known already through months of coming attractions – Adam Sandler plays essentially Adam Sandler, though his name here is George Simmons – a Hollywood star known for a series of terrible comic films.  (Little clips of Simmons’ opuses like Merman and Re-Do are shown here, looking typically awful.)  However, one day, Simmons – who is a nasty jerk in real life – learns that he has contracted a deadly blood disease.

Simmons decides to go back on stage and try out a newer darker act, which promptly bombs.  (I can’t tell you why.  While it was not funny, it’s no worse than any of the dozens of other standup scenes here).  At the club he meets a wannabe comedian, Ira Wright.  After watching Ira riffing on how bad George’s act was, the comic for some reason hires the young stand-up to write some jokes for him and be his assistant.

Ira gets more and more frazzled when he finds out that George is dying, but no one else knows (though most of George’s new edgy act revolves around how the audience will miss him when he is gone, so I think someone else probably figured it out).

I will give Apatow credit for this – he doesn’t take the easy way out and have George’s fight with death turn him into a better person.  George is still self-centered, angry and often cruel.  Even when he gets a life reprieve and his disease appears to go into remission, he is still often an asshole.  Mortality is not a life-changer here.

Funny People is one of those annoying movies where everyone tells the lead character – and each other – how funny the guy is.  This constant pounding of the point is undoubtedly because there is not a single line that he uses – either as a standup comedian or in casual conversation – which leads us to believe this or even rises to the level of amusing.

For example:

German Eurotrash Doctor: You are a very funny man.  I enjoy your movies.

George: And I enjoy all your movies.

Doctor: Which movies?

George: The ones where you try to kill Bruce Willis.

Ugh….  Beyond being horribly obvious and not very funny, it is vaguely racist.  (Other than the fact he is tall, has an accent and has long blond hair the doctor looks very little like Alexander Godunov.)

Or how about this one?  When discussing whether he told his mother he was dying…

George: I sent her an email.  She tried to email me back on a toaster.

Insert drumroll and rimshot here.  Disregard slight whiff of ageism…

Now, mind you, both of these horrible jokes are included in the movie’s trailer – so this is the cream of the crop here.  Imagine all the lines that weren’t good enough to make it.

(Okay, in fairness, I think the second one may have gotten cut from the final film.  Or maybe I was dazed by being pummeled by bad one-liners for two and a half hours and missed it.)

Yes, I keep mentioning that it was two and a half hours because it is absolutely inexcusable that a romantic comedy/drama should last that long.  That was hard time.  What does Apatow think this is – Apocalypse Now?  Frankly the entire last hour – a subplot in which George tries to win back “the one who got away,” a married former TV actress played by the director’s wife Leslie Mann – should have been cut out.

Mann’s character is thankless here – a wishy-washy loser who changes her mind on a dime for no other reason than that is what the script tells her.  First she hates George, then she may love him.  First she loves her husband, then she feels betrayed by him.  In the meantime, she is so flighty that she leaves her two daughters with a man she barely even knows while flip-flopping on her love life.

Then, well over two hours into this unending mope fest, Apatow sticks the shiv in a little further by slipping in a home movie of his daughter singing “Memory” from Cats.  In fairness, Apatow and Mann’s daughters are adorable, but they are not actresses and there is no reason for them to be there other than to feed the massive ego which has been on display throughout.  And making us watch one of them sing show tunes when all we possibly want is for the movie to end so we can get out of the theater – that’s cruel and unusual, dude.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: July 31, 2009.


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