Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: "Funny People"

"Funny People" should come with a warning announcement: "And now folks, a serious moment with Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow."

Yes, this is the movie where the dudes behind "The Waterboy" and "Knocked Up" team up and get all weepie.

Sandler plays a thinly-disguised version of himself, a massively successful star of mainstream comedy films, who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. He hires a young wannabe comedian, played by Seth Rogen, to be his assistant/friend, and sets about to learn him some life lessons.

This formula actually works for awhile, as the big star and the young schlub bond. George Simmons (Sandler) teaches Ira how to hold his own doing stand-up, and Ira helps George see that there's more to life than his opulent mansion and anonymous hook-ups with female admirers.

There's also some pleasant byplay with Ira's roommates, who are both much more successful than him. Jonah Hill plays another comedian, and Jason Schwartzman has become the star of a horrible television comedy called "Yo, Teach!" Oh, and there's a girl comedian (Aubrey Plaza) for whom Ira is laying out a three-month seduction plan, but the Schwartzman character gives him 10 days to make a move before he turns on the star charm.

So the movie is humming along quite nicely, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, a little bit of serious stuff with George's illness, and then Ira and George take a trip to Marin County to look up an old girlfriend of George's, and the movie flushes itself right down the toilet.

The visit to see the girlfriend just goes on, and on, and on, until you realize it's taken up almost an hour of the film's ungodly 145-minute run time. The old saw about Judd Apatow movies is that they go on 20 minutes too long, but "Funny People" qualifies for a multiplier.

I hate to say this, but I think this section is only in the movie because the old girlfriend is played by Leslie Mann, who is Apatow's wife in real life. And although she's a talented performer, the whole concept of the girlfriend trip just kills the movie. She's married (to an Aussie played by Eric Bana) and has two daughters, and because of George's illness she convinces herself they're still in love.

This happens right after George learns that his disease has gone into remission. I'm not giving anything away here; this twist is in the trailer. I just find it ironic that it's only after George learns that he's going to live that "Funny People" becomes a death march.

The one truly interesting thing about this movie is that it seems to be making fun of Adam Sandler, or at least his movies. There are numerous clips from made-up flicks like "Merman," in which he's a half-fish, and "Re-do," where he has the body of a baby but his regular head. It's made clear that no one actually thinks these are funny, and yet they are essentially barely-disguised take-offs of Sandler's actual movies.

Since Sandler and Apatow were roommates when they were first breaking in, it raises the question of what the former roomies really think of each other's work. Based on "Funny People," they should have ditched the reunion.

2 stars

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