According to the old Hollywood adage (that I just made up), if you want to make a funny movie you should never put the word “funny” in the title, it’s the kiss of comedy death. Think about it: Funny Farm with Chevy Chase, maybe two amusing scenes. Funny About Love with Gene Wilder, didn’t see it but the reviews aren’t promising. Funny Face? Funny Girl? A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? All successful movies…OK, the adage is falling apart. Well, it’s not MY adage!
Apatow has pulled together a few members of his repertory company like his wife Leslie Mann, his perennial everyman Seth Rogan, and Jonah Hill along with big movie star Adam Sandler in a movie about a big movie star (Adam Sandler) who is faced to look at his life and the choices he has made on his way to becoming a big movie star (Adam Sandler).
First of all, I must say that I’m not a huge Adam Sandler fan. I don’t hate him, but his being in a movie has never been a selling point for me. To his credit, he has made attempts to break out of his typical movies and stretch himself, like in Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish. This might be one of those breakout performances, but ironically he’s pretty much playing a version of himself. George Simmons is a guy who came up doing stand-up comedy and is now rich and famous due to high concept comedies like Merman and Re-Do (in which a grown man becomes a baby in order to find out how to become a man).* When we first meet Simmons, he is leaving his big ocean view mansion to go to his doctor’s office where he gets bad news. He has a rare form of leukemia and the only slim hope he has is an experimental treatment.
We also meet aspiring stand-up Ira Wright (Rogan) at his day job at a deli. He is trying hard to convince a co-worker to come and see him at a comedy club that night, his friend doesn’t want to because Ira bombed painfully last time. Ira has to pay the cover charge in order to get him to come.
George and Ira (Now why do those two names sound familiar? Anyone? Anyone?) meet each other at the club when George drops in unexpected to try his stand-up chops, cutting down some of Ira’s time. I’ll just say it doesn’t bode well for a lasting friendship, but that’s what the rest of the movie is about. George is successful but lonely. When the best you can come up with as far as friends is Andy Dick you’re in big trouble.
Which reminds me, this movie may set the record for celebrity cameos including a very funny confrontation between a celeb that everybody loves and another one that everybody loves to hate.
Ira, on the other hand, is socially inept, sleeps on the couch of his more successful comedian friends (Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman), and his act seriously needs work.
Which reminds me, this movie may also set the record for dick jokes. In fact, if anyone has been bothered by the constant marijuana use in Apatow’s previous one Knocked Up, you’ll be happy to know that only once does a character light a pipe. Weed usage in this movie has been replaced by dick jokes.
George actually ends up hiring Ira as an assistant/joke writer and the movie becomes an expletive (and dick joke) laced meditation on friendship and real relationships as well as a salute to the bravest of comedians: Those who stand up naked in front of audiences (well, not literally – they only talk about their dicks) every night in the service of that cruel mistress, laughter.
Which reminds me, this post definitely sets the record for my own use of the word “dick.” In fact, after this I may add it to my personal list of banned words along with “redneck,” “Hitler,” and “exacerbate.”
Along the way, George gets reacquainted with the girl he left behind (Leslie Mann), a former actress who now lives in Marin County with her husband and two daughters.** Their reunion is both funny and very bittersweet; in other words, it’s a lot like life.
That’s the thing that has become a hallmark of these three movies of Apatow’s. Unlike the ones that he writes or produces, like Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, wherein the comedy is much broader, these movies come from real situations and real issues. What is it like to be an outlier in society, like Steve Carell as The 40-Year-Old Virgin? Or Seth Rogan’s man-boy in Knocked Up forced to grow up. These characters are damaged goods. George Simmons is an arrogant ass at the beginning of the movie and, although he clearly has what screenwriters like to call “an arc” (at least they used to when I was trying to become one), at the end of the movie he’s still kind of an arrogant ass. Although everything comes to a satisfying ending, it doesn’t seem like a contrived happy ending.
The comedy comes from the situations, but more from the characters, therefore the dialogue (much of which is improvised) is actually funny, not just what I call writery. Writery is when you can actually see the writer sitting at the laptop going “Ooh, that’s a good line!” That’s just clever writing at best, not good writing. When I write I try to avoid being a writery writer. Although I probably fail a lot of the time.
Which reminds me, isn’t it great how I’ve set the record for the most references to setting records? Ick…writery.
So anyway, if you’re OK with frequent expletives and dick jokes you’ll probably like Funny People. It’s not the non-stop laugh fest that 40-Year-Old Virgin was (I personally could have that movie on a continuous loop 24/7 and never get tired of it), but it has enough heart and enough fun to recommend it highly. Mad props to Sandler for trying something different and to Apatow for exploring some potentially murky subject matter. Even though he broke my adage.
* Seriously, check out the links. They’ve made a whole website for George Simmons with clips from his “films”.
** I just have to tell you that the older girl who sings ‘Memory’ from Cats is Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow’s daughter. Very cool.