2009 | Director and Writer: Judd Apatow (“The Larry Sanders Show,” “Freaks and Geeks”)
Judd Apatow’s “Funny People” aspires to be a James L. Brooks-like dramedy that explores the dark reaches of comic stardom, where the hilarity of public persona meets the grim loneliness behind the velvet curtain. It’s a decent idea, not without a semblance of dramatic heft, but it’s built upon a quickly-tired foundation of hard-R improv comedy, which is a little like dressing a homeless guy in a $7,000 suit: it may get him into the country club (or the Golden Globes), but he’s still a filthy, miserable, unkempt transient deep inside.
The film stars Adam Sandler as George Simmons, a stand-up comic who grew into superstardom in the form of family blockbusters like “MerMan” and “Re-Do.” When Simmons receives a virtual death sentence during a visit to the doctor’s office, he decides to try stand-up again, and in the process of a painful night, hires fledgling comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen playing Seth Rogen)—a frustrated showbiz novice who lives with two annoying roommates played by Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman—to write jokes for him. Wright finds that Simmons, despite the joy he’s ostensibly brought millions, has no friends, and so the writer tries to get the beloved icon back into the good graces of those he left behind for the Big Time—especially former flame Laura (Leslie Mann).
The most fundamental flaw in “Funny People” is that it’s just not funny. The movie is packed with self-indulgent filler from Apatow, from way too much screen time for real-life spouse Mann to an entire third act crammed with flat footage featuring his (and Mann’s) children, Maude and Iris. But the most egregious indulgence is Apatow’s formerly-novel sense of humor. While the meandering improv style the director has championed scored big in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” it’s also been trotted out ad nauseam in his various non-directorial productions like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and “I Love You, Man,” meaning that by the time it has reached “Funny People,” the free-form dialogue sounds like the same jokes about genitals we’ve heard over and over for the past five years.
The humor in “Funny People” has nothing to do with situations, little to do with physicality or observation, and everything to do with obscenity, profanity, and pop culture references. Frankly, for how it listlessly coats the bloated body of the film, the humor feels shoehorned into the semi-serious premise, a rumination on death and stardom that should have absolutely nothing to do with the now-cliché ramblings of Sandler and Rogen. As a result the movie fails as a comedy, fails as a drama, and saddest of all, fails Apatow himself, who strains for new ground with one hand while holding onto his old shtick with the other.
Rating: One and a Half of Five Stars