Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann and Eric Bana
You’ve got your funny, you’ve got your people. And FUNNY PEOPLE, the third film by Judd Apatow, the reigning God of all things supposedly funny at the movies, only has room for one of these things. Which one, you ask. Let’s just that’s an awfully big cast he’s got there. Apatow has set himself apart in the last few years by making stylish comedies that speak directly to an audience that isn’t often engaged when it comes to comedy. It isn’t slapstick; it isn’t stupid. It is smart comedy with real people who have relatable problems but who don’t mind getting dirty with their humour. A comedian who has joked his way through life and is now facing his own mortality is certainly a real problem, just like a forty-year-old who has yet to lose his virginity or a one night stand that resulted in a pregnancy (Apatow’s two previous features, THE FORTY-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP, respectively) are real problems, but FUNNY PEOPLE forgets to be exactly what got Apatow and all his regulars there in the first place – funny.
Apatow has certainly stepped up his game. In many ways, he didn’t have much of a choice. His name has been built up so high at this stage for all of his producing gigs that when one of his own movies drops, it has to lead by example. Casting Adam Sandler as the aforementioned dying comedian was the perfect start to a project brimming with potential. George is not so much unlike Sandler, at least when it comes to his career. Both started out in standup and both went on to make movie after crappy movie to appease the masses. More importantly, both are now in need of redemption for their regrets. (I can’t imagine Sandler is too proud of YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN; I could be wrong, but that’s doubtful.) The art imitating life doesn’t stop there either with Seth Rogen playing Ira, George’s assistant, as Rogen looks destined to follow in Sandler’s footsteps in Hollywood. While it is clear that both are pushing their dramatic acting abilities in this picture, well, it is also clear that they’re trying so it isn’t exactly a resounding success.
People are funny and Apatow knows this. FUNNY PEOPLE definitely refers to the vast cast of people who are all undeniably funny (Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill play their own brand of comedians as Ira’s roommates in a subplot that is essentially useless) but it could just as easily refer to the funny things we do as people. Whether that is Ira cussing out a girl he has yet to even have a date with for sleeping with one of his friends or George naively thinking that he can get back with the girl who got away (and who got married and got herself two kids, all played by Apatow’s real-life family, wife, Leslie Mann, and his two daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow) just because time was running out and sympathy was on his side. Hollywood works that way but life just doesn’t and fortunately, Apatow has earned himself enough clout in Hollywood to play against convention, as long as he isn’t making, “Sad People.” He might as well have made the sad one here though; at least then people would know what they were in for.
There is a scene early on in the film where George makes an impromptu appearance at a comedy club the same day he finds out he is dying. He doesn’t want to tell the audience about it; he just doesn’t know what to do with himself. Understandably, his jokes fall flatter than a flat line, and he pauses while on stage to listen to the sound of the cars on the nearby freeway, audible to everyone inside as no one is laughing. It is a touching moment but it also sums up what it is like to watch FUNNY PEOPLE. There is hilarity surrounding you but the delivery only inspires discomfort and a couple of chuckles. Your heart goes out but you wish your gut was hurting just a little too.