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Funny People One of the Hardest Movies to Judge, Ever

Funny People
Written and directed by Judd Apatow
Universal, 2009

Hard to believe, since Apatow’s name is so omnipresent in films, that this is only his third feature as director.  After The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, it’s not surprising that Apatow wanted to make something a little more ambitious on this go round, and he enlisted his old buddy Adam Sandler and his go-to mainstay Seth Rogen to play the leads.  But if you were to ask my opinion, Apatow is not ready to be making ambitious films just yet.

In Funny People, struggling comedy writer/stand-up comedian Ira Wright (Rogen) gets noticed by big-time comedy star George Simmons (Sandler), who is trying to reclimatize to the stand-up world again, mainly because he’s recently been diagnosed with some kind of leukemia.  Simmons likes what Wright is throwing out there and feels like he could be a good assistant and joke writer.  So the two begin a slow working relationship that veers into the personal once in awhile that gets them closer to being friends.

Wright lives with two other aspiring entertainers, one is a somewhat successful actor on a terrible teacher sitcom, Mark Taylor Jackson (Jason Schwartzman), and the other is a fellow stand-up, Leo Koenig (Jonah Hill, another Apatow fixture).  Wright’s love interest is stand-up Daisy (Aubrey Plaza, who’s great), whom Jackson has promised he will have sex with in ten days if Wright doesn’t make a move by that time.

As Simmons continues to do big-pay gigs with Wright tagging along, his unhappiness becomes an issue and Wright suggests having Simmons tell everyone close to him that he’s dying.  Some are family, some are friends, but the big one is former love Laura (Leslie Mann), who is now married and has two kids.  Laura definitely still has feelings for Simmons and vice-versa, and Laura’s suspicions that her husband Clarke (Eric Bana) is cheating leads her to justify striking up their relationship again.  But Simmons is actually getting better with an experimental medicine, so will the love last when Simmons isn’t dying anymore?

That’s essentially the plot.  Once again this summer, I’m forced to wonder why this movie has to be 2 1/2 hours.  “Too long” is one of the easiest, laziest criticisms of a movie, but this summer we’ve had to deal with a bunch of these, where something inherently brisk ends up going towards three hours.  There is so much filler in this flick.  When you watch deleted scenes on a DVD, there is a certain disconnect from the plot where it makes sense that the scene was deleted.  Funny People is full of such scenes, in the movie itself.  Prime example: Eminem gives Simmons career advice while Ray Romano snaps paparazzi-esque photos.  There are a ton of cameos in this, mostly from stand-ups, but they all seem like a cavalcade of “look who I got in this movie!”

Also, the criticism has been brought up before and it’s valid: Apatow’s relentless use of pop culture references, which tend to date movies over time.  There is, in fact, a Mr. Belvedere joke in here that is quite funny but woefully dated already.  When you hear the line, “Megan Fox Blows Somebody” in reference to a great website name, the line is funny but I have a feeling Fox won’t be around much in ten years or so.  There’s a big scene involving MySpace and the line, “Fuck Facebook!” and almost everything surrounding it could be beyond old in the decades to come.

So why is this one of the hardest movies to judge?  Because despite all of the criticisms, the movie will likely make you laugh…a lot.  In this way, Funny People shares some traits with Sandler’s earlier comedies Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, movies which aren’t particularly well-made but have a lot in which to laugh.  But even those movies knew to keep the movie snapping along, and if it ever got sidetracked, they kept it brief.  It’s a likable movie, with a great amount of comic performances (seriously, 2009 might be the best year of comedy characters ever), especially newcomer Aubrey Plaza, who I just want to see more of right now.  Overall, this is a bit of a misfire from Apatow, but I’m sure more than enough people will be entertained by his latest.

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