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Funny People (8/10)
by Tony Medley
Runtime 146 minutes.
Not for children.
This movie opens with an old video of star Adam
Sandler and writer-director Judd Apatow making prank telephone calls,
something they did when they were unknown roomies. They appear to be in
their 20s. I made prank telephone calls with some friends when I was in
grammar school. When I became a teenager, making prank telephone calls
ceased to strike me as funny or entertaining. It’s perhaps a commentary
on the intelligence of stand-up comics that they would still think
something as juvenile and inconsiderate as this would be funny after
they had become adults, and that they would entertain themselves by
doing it. Although the youthful Sandler and Apatow are laughing
uproariously in the grainy video, what they are doing is not funny. I’m
not sure why Apatow would want to include this in a film seen by
Despite the dismal start, Apatow has achieved a new
plateau with this touching film about a superstar comedian, George
Simmons (Sandler), who is told he has a rare form of leukemia and that
his life is in grave danger. George has lived a selfish, lonely life.
This news gives him a new perspective, and, he thinks, a chance to undo
some of the things he has done and missed.
Apatow has created a film of unexpected depth and
feeling, aided by superb performances by Sandler and Seth Rogen, who
plays Ira Wright, a stand-up wannabe who gets hired by George as an
Actually, the relationship between George and Ira
is somewhat autobiographical because many of the incidents are directly
from the friendship between Apatow and Sandler who were roommates when
both were struggling up the ladder of success.
Sandler gives the performance of his career.
Although the film is replete with profanity and sexual allusions, Apatow
staples, some might be understandable here because the players are
stand-up comedians and that genre seems to survive on crotch and bodily
It didn’t used to be that way. Certainly vaudeville
was raunchy, but comedians were not as gross as these, outside of
Burlesque houses. Some might trace the downward thrust of stand-up
comedy to Lenny Bruce, but Bruce was campaigning for a freer use of
language. The subject matter really didn’t get as low class and in as
poor taste as it is now until spurred on by Richard Pryor (“Richard
Pryor Live in Concert,” 1979) and Eddie Murphy (“Raw,” 1987), whose
routines were X-rated. Now it’s difficult to attend a stand-up club
without being attacked by comedy routines that would be more appropriate
in a gutter.
Maybe, and I hope this is true, this movie could
stand as an allegory for Apatow’s career. George has become enormously
successful making silly movies, like one where he appears with his own
head superimposed on a baby’s body. The movies are silly but have made a
lot of money. Apatow, like George, has been responsible for many films,
like “Pineapple Express” (2008), for instance, that are so replete with
f bombs and crotch humor that they can have a coarsening effect on
society. As George gropes to return to a past life of lost opportunity
to make amends and maybe become a better person, it might be surmised
that Apatow has left his vulgar films behind and made a film that can
set him on a better path. “Knocked Up,” despite its profanity, was an
entertaining movie. This movie is a horse of a different color. While it
does have bad language and disgusting jokes, they are minimized, and
take a back seat to George’s journey. While there is some humor, this is
a thoughtful film, not a comedy.
Although there is humor spread throughout, and
although Sandler and Rogen have reputations as funnymen, the funniest
person in the movie is Rogen’s roommate, Leo Koenig (Jonah Hill, another
Apatow regular). Sandler and Rogen are more poignant than funny. Rogen,
in particular, displays depth never before seen from him, although
hinted at in the deplorable “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” (2008).
The core of the film is Sandler’s disillusionment
with his life and lost love, Laura (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife). She has
a shaky marriage with her husband, Clarke (Eric Bana, who enters the
film quite late but gives a wonderful performance despite his short
In addition to Mann, Apatow cast his two daughters,
Maude and Iris, as Laura and Clarke’s children, Mable and Ingrid,
respectively. Both give good performances.
Apatow recognizes the low tone of his movies,
including this one, as he admitted that he did not allow his daughters
to view it, even though they were in it. Asked how much of the movie
they could see, he responded, “About 8 minutes.” While this might be
funny, it would be nice if Judd thought about this and made some movies
that his daughters could watch from beginning to end, because he is
clearly a talented director and writer. This could have been
such a movie. The vulgar language and jokes added nothing, except
to detract from it.