Some movies are funny, incredibly honest and well thought out, yet manage to fail in capturing audience's attention when it comes to being a cohesive film. This is certainly the case with Judd Apatow's 2009 offering Funny People, which comes as somewhat of a surprise given the directors previous success. Perhaps it is the seemingly illogical editing or the varying level of acting abilities in the film, but Funny People never really delivers on its promise of being a hilarious, yet heartwarming film, it simply falls short. Tragically, it takes the viewer two and a half hours to realize this very real fact. Now to completely dismiss this film would be unfair, it is certainly funny and possesses some of the best comedic actors of both the nineties and 2000's. It is certainly quotable and captures many of the ideas and concerns present in 2009 though comedy. Adam Sandler is easily much more likeable in this film than any of his films of the years prior, or the ones to follow for that manner However, even this fact is almost irrelevant, because he is outshined by the likes of more popular and prominent comedic actors such as Jonah Hill and Seth Rogan. Basically, this film serves more as a passing of the torch to comedy as it begins the 21st century than a reflection on the life of a comedic actor, and for that I can give it a fair amount of respect.
Funny People focuses on the profusely successful comedian turned actor George Simmons (Adam Sandler) who appear to be on top of the world, until he is diagnosed with a rare blood disease that could prove to be fatal. Despite to vague hope of experimental drugs, Simmons begins a path of self-loathing that leads him to return to comedy venues for stand-up. After delivering a rather abysmal routine wrought with existential woe, George is followed by an aspiring comedian named Ira Wright (Seth Rogan) whose nerves get the best of him when performing. In a fit of confusion and desperation, Ira makes jokes on George in order to gain laughs. This at first perturbs George, until he realizes that he would act exactly the same under similar circumstances. This leads George to hire Ira as a part joke writer and assistant. This news comes as a great surprise to Ira who is currently mooching off of his friends Leo Koening (Jonah Hill) a heavy set stand-up comic who uses sarcasm and a vast knowledge of pop culture to garner laughs and Mark Taylor Jackosn (Jason Schwartzman) a self-absorbed actor who thinks he is a demigod based on landing a leading role on a sub par sitcom. Ira under the guidance of George begins to gain a feel for comedy and performances at much larger venues. However, the seeming boon of such gains end quickly for Ira as he realizes the aging actor's illness has caused him to become rather cynical and self-destructive, most notably as it relates to his previous fling Laura (Leslie Mann). Attempting to win Laura over, George, with the help of Ira, invites her over and explains his illness, which instantly gains Laura's pity. This pity, however, quickly rekindles the couple's love and they make plans to get together at Laura's house while her husband Clarke (Eric Bana) is overseas for business. Again all seems fine as George and Laura reconnect intimately, however, Clarke returns home unannounced to surprise his family. At first, Clarke lacks suspicion given George's disease, but when Clarke finds out that George's disease has recently become better, he becomes furious with both George and Laura and storms out of the house. Confused Laura leaves, choosing Clarke over George thus leading George to blame Ira for the entire incident. The relationship between George and Ira fractures and Ira returns to the comedy club and mooching off his friends. Fortunately for Ira, George attends one of Ira's performances and decides to meet Ira at his work to discuss his jokes and make a few suggestions. The film ends with them sharing comedy ideas and rekindling their friendship.
As I noted earlier, the film seems to be more of a passing of the comedic torch to a new generation than a study of an aging comedian. George represents a comedy of the nineties and early 2000's which focused heavily on toilet humor and swear heavy punch lines, it is fitting that Adam Sandler plays this role, because this is essentially the contents of most of his comedy films. This is not to discredit Sandler by any means, because his films truly captured the audiences and are staples of nineties cinema. Waterboy, Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison are easily some of the funniest films of my childhood and I would be hard pressed to find people who disagrees. However, as the film shows and as Sandler's career has reflected, his comedy stylings are not as fresh as they once were, instead a new comedic styling which focuses on cynicism, irony and obscure pop culture references has surfaced, a game which Sandler, and his character of George, seem incapable of doing. Ira, Leo and even Ira's love interest Daisy (Aubrey Plaza) are from a viral generation that realizes comedy works when delivered quickly and uniquely. In fact, actress Aubrey Plaza earned her big break thanks to her own involvement with YouTube. Leo even makes note of the power the internet has on bolstering his own career, because even an incoherent viral video involving cats helps assure a handful more viewings of his website. Tragically, it appears as though George fails to learn this lesson as his comedy always seems a little out there in the film, as though it belongs to a different date and time. Essentially, Funny People is about the recent evolution of comedy and makes sure to note the victims of this notable change.
Funny People is a rental film all the way. It has many funny moments and is not terrible by any means; however, at a two plus hour run time it is hard to commit to more than once.