Movie Review – Funny People (2009)
by RISHI AGRAWAL
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is dying and realizes that he’s never let anyone become close to him. Yes, this film is a comedy. You see, George Simmons is a legendary comedian who makes dumb films. In fact, his career trajectory is eerily similar to Sandler’s, which is why Sandler works so well in the role. Faced with his imminent death, George hires Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a young comedian, to become his assistant and confidant. Rogen plays Ira differently than the characters that we’re used to. Ira is less confidant and arrogant than most of Rogen’s characters. For once, he actually gets to play the nice guy.
What makes the film work is Apatow’s unique blend of silly and serious. The film manages to be a film both about mortality and comedy. And the comedy is very funny. The stand-up is exceptional, especially by George, Ira, as well as Ira’s roommate Leo (Jonah Hill) and Ira’s love interest, Daisy (Aubrey Plaza). When the stand-up is funny, it is really funny. But I think what really stands out about the comedy is that occasionally it’s more awkward than funny, when the film needs to show a character who has not found his footing or suffers from a lack of confidence. The film also brilliantly parodies popular sitcoms with Ira’s other roommate, Mark (Jason Schwartzman), who stars in an absolutely horrible sitcom called Yo Teach, which vaults him to the status of a minor celebrity.
Although the film does blend the comedy and drama fairly seamlessly, at times they seem slightly incongruous. The dramatic parts of the film primarily center on George’s battle with his illness and his desire to reconnect with his ex-girlfriend, Laura (Leslie Mann), who is now married to an Australian businessman (Eric Bana), with two children (played by Apatow and Mann’s own kids, Maude and Iris Apatow). There are funny moments in this storyline, but at times it feels like the film is trying too hard to be poignant. The final act of the film really drags as we deal with the plot twists. Unlike Knocked Up, I really felt the length of Funny People. Unfortunately, I am not sure what I would cut, as the parts that were tangential to the main plot, such as those dealing with Ira’s roommates and the stand-up comedy, are some of the strongest sections of the film.
There are quite a few cameos from famous comedians, which are occasionally superfluous, but are generally funny, including a hilarious scene with Eminem and Ray Romano. The scenes also point to the reason why George is not close to anyone, as the comedians seem more concerned with telling jokes rather than forming meaningful connections to the people around them.
Although Funny People is a good film, it almost seems like two different films at points. The film has a very large scope and although none of the film is bad, the film never comes together as a cohesive whole. Except in a few scenes, like an uncomfortable Thanksgiving at Ira’s apartment and a brilliant scene at the doctor’s office (the doctor is played by Torsten Voges), the comedy and drama feel separated. The film could have been an outstanding comedy, but overreaches its bounds, and turns into merely a good film.