Monday, August 3, 2009

Funny Ha Ha and Funny Strange

Funny People seems to have confused a lot of people. From what I could gather, most of the audience that showed up when I saw it, especially the younger ones, were expecting an Adam Sandler movie. Instead, they got a movie with Adam Sandler. I've explained the difference before but it bears repeating now. Adam Sandler movies are films in which the main creative forces are Sandler and his old SNL writing buddies. An Adam Sandler movie is a gross, crude and usually unfunny film in which Sandler plays a larger-than-life character in an over-the-top fashion. The character is always annoying in some way, sometimes because of an unappealing personality, other times because of some physical aspect like a grating accent, often times both such as in Little Nicky. Adam Sandler movies often have funny scenes but are over all unsatisfying experiences. On the other hand, movies with Adam Sandler are movies in which Sandler was not the main creative force. Oh, he certainly has a hand in the direction of the movie and his character but the project is under the control of people like Paul Thomas Anderson, James L. Brooks or, in the case of Funny People, Judd Apatow. So far, movies with Adam Sandler have mostly been good, intelligent and unusual films and, unlike Adam Sandler movies, they don't contain scenes of walruses vomiting on hermaphrodites or fish turning a sickly shade of brown after being yanked out of someone's ass.

Funny People is one of Sandler's best movies, it's only real flaw being that it's too long. There's about 30 minutes that could have been cut out of the 2 hour, 16 minute film. Still, there are worse things you can do to a movie than have it fall into the "too much of a good thing" category.

Sandler plays George Simmons, a character loosely based on Sandler's own life. I think Sandler himself described George as what Sandler would have become had he made different decisions in his life. George is a movie star known for his over-the-top comedies such as the movie where he played a merman or when he became a baby with Adam Sandler's head. Simmons discovers he has leukemia and begins feeling that his life is empty despite his success and vast wealth. He has no truly close friends and lost the only woman he ever really loved over a dozen years earlier. He decides on a whim to drop in at a comedy club and do some standup, something he hasn't done in five years. He bombs because standup comedy isn't like riding a bike. You can't just jump back into it after years, even if you're one of the greats.

That is where Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) becomes involved in George's life. Ira is an aspiring comic who has to follow George who has the best set of his life mainly by making fun of how poorly George had done that night. George gets over his anger at Ira by admitting he'd have done the same thing. Ira isn't a particularly good comic and is currently sleeping on a foldout couch with his two roommates. One of them is Leo (Jonah Hill), another aspiring comedian who is actually getting paid to do it and Mark (Jason Schwarzman), a comic who has loves to rub the fact that he's landed his own sitcom in the faces of his roommates. It's an especially lame show but it does pay $25,000 a week so Ira and Leo can't really make too much fun of Mark. As I said, at the moment Ira isn't a very good comic but he does have potential that George recognizes so he hires him to be a joke writer and personal assistant. Because he really has no one else, George starts opening up to Ira about his health and his life in general. Ira's supposed to keep it a secret so he naturally tells his buddies all about it.

I'm making this movie sound very serious but it's not. It's loaded with humor such as when Schwarzman's character tells Ira that he will sleep with the girl Ira likes if he doesn't actually make some sort of move on her in the next ten days or when George tells Ira that he'll pay Ira $50,000 to kill him and spare George the pain of dying from a terminal disease and then laughingly calls Ira a sick freak when he doesn't immediately dismiss the idea. There's also George's insightful observation that the reason Ira doesn't have a girlfriend is because his entire standup act is about farting and jacking off.

Sandler and director Judd Apatow mine a great deal of the story from their own lives. They were roommates back in the 80s when they were both starting out in standup comedy themselves and the movie opens with home movies they made of them making prank phone calls. George's unrequited love is played by Apatow's real life wife Leslie Mann (who's in all of Apatow's movies) and her daughters are played by their real life daughters Maude and Iris. The movie also serves as both a critique of and a love letter to the world of standup comedy. Paul Reiser, Sarah Silverman and pretty much anyone else who ever stood in front of a brick wall talking about why they don't just build the plane out of the black box appears in the movie as George's show biz buddies. All these personal touches turn Funny People from a something you watch into something you experience.

If only it hadn't been so...damn...LONG. The sequence toward the end where George reconnects with his old girlfriend goes on forever. Hell, it probably started back up again after the closing credits. I wonder what the hell they'll put on the DVD. Normally you would show deleted scenes but this movie doesn't have any. The guy in charge of sweeping up the editing room floor had very little to do in this movie.

Still, I recommend you go and enjoy the very good 90 minute movie buried inside this 136 minute behemoth. One final note: there's a scene where Judd Apatow's little girl Maude sings "Memories" during a school recital and wow, can she sing. Judd, if this whole movie making thing falls through and you can't even get a deal to make straight-to-DVD sex Van Wilder sequels, you can always star with her in a Disney show where she puts on a blond wig and becomes a pop star.

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