Judd Apatow is a name that gets thrown around a lot these days when it comes to comedies (as writer and producer), but in reality, there have only been three films where he has been the director – The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and his latest, Funny People, starring his former flatmate Adam Sandler and a mid-weight-loss Seth Rogen (I believe he’s lost more since).
Very loosely based on some of Apatow’s experiences as a struggling comedian, Funny People is about stand-up comedians and, basically, their lives, from those battling at the bottom, to those living it up at the top. I don’t want to reveal much more than that. If you haven’t seen the previews, then good for you, because as usual, it reveals some of the best parts and spoils the surprises.
You hear the names Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, and you may be thinking ultra-hilarious, stupid, vulgar comedy, but Funny People is more accurately classified as a drama-comedy. Put it this way – it’s more Spanglish and Punch Drunk Love than Happy Gilmore and Pineapple Express. That said, the film has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, often coming from unsuspecting cameos, of which there are many. The film did a splendid job of combining people acting as other characters and people playing themselves (or at least public versions of themselves). Things such as fictional movies and movie posters (some just in the background) mixed in with real-life archive footage added an extra layer of comedic complexity to the film.
The stand-up routines were also apparently written by the actors themselves, performed and shot in front of live audiences and then edited for the movie. I suspect there must have quite a bit of improvisation too. It makes me wonder how many of the actual lines were ad-libbed, because some sounded too spontaneously brilliant to have been scripted.
However, it is the dramatic elements of Funny People that set it apart from Apatow’s earlier films. There are some pretty emotional scenes in there, and I was surprised how well Apatow pulled them off. Not all of them scenes may have worked, but enough did to make Funny People an engaging drama as well as a clever adult comedy.
As for the cast, Apatow employs the usual suspects to support Sandler and Rogen – Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann (his wife in real life) and even his two daughters Maude and Iris Apatow. The addition that may seem out of the blue to some is of course Eric Bana, who demonstrates his comedic talents to the world (outside of Australia) for the first time. To fellow Aussies, his hilarity comes as no surprise (as he was a comedian before he turned serious), but I think those who only know him from Hulk and Troy are going to be pleasantly surprised. Oh, and I must say, I usually find Jonah Hill rather irritating, but he’s actually funny here. Jason Schwartzman was excellent too. I knew Adam Sandler was capable of being a great dramatic actor, but was pleasantly surprised by Seth Rogen. He was very very good.
My main complaint with Funny People is its running time, which at 136 minutes is far too long, even for a drama-comedy. The ending was also a bit ‘meh’. Nevertheless, overall this is still a quality film, definitely worth your time.
4 stars out of 5!