Andy Bockelman: ‘Funny People’ humorous but lacks punchline
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars
Starring: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann.
The comedy “Funny People” certainly can promise a lot from its cast with its title. Still, a movie called “Funny Premise” might be a little more reassuring.
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) has it all – an indomitable comedy career, legions of fans and a mansion big enough to have its own area code. In fact, he also has found out he has one more thing, too: a terminal blood disease.
With nobody close to him and doctors giving him weeks to live, George decides to take stock and make the most of his time left by going back to his roots in standup. When he meets struggling young comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), he hires him to function as his protege/personal assistant/best friend, forbidding him to spread the news of his illness.
Although Ira loves the perks of such a job, George’s demands become more and more draining as he begins a medical regimen. But just when the situation is at its most tense, George unexpectedly receives a clean bill of health and a second chance.
And he intends to use it to reconnect with the former girlfriend (Leslie Mann) for whom he still carries a torch.
Sandler is more or less playing a fictitious version of himself as Simmons, the renowned star of gimmicky, multi-million dollar comedies that involve him being turned into either a merman or an infant with the head of an adult.
But even with the minimal amount of stretching for the role, the longtime goof builds up the dramatic chops he has been fashioning with “Spanglish” and “Reign Over Me,” and his talents are far more suited for playing slightly wistful than utterly weepy.
It’s all Rogen can do to keep up, serving as the straight man not only to his new employer but also to his own roommates (Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman), who are considerably less talented, yet find more show business success.
Mann does not disappoint as sweet-hearted Laura, more than just “the one that got away” but also a married mother of two whose husband (Eric Bana) barely gives her the time of day.
It pays to be in the good graces of Judd Apatow, whether you’re the writer/director’s old roommate – Sandler – most reliable star – Rogen – or family – wife Mann and daughters Iris and Maude Apatow. But having his name attached in one capacity or another to a few films every year doesn’t prevent him from saving the big stuff for his own feature.
Aside from the real-life early footage of Sandler and Mann in a variety of venues, the amount of cameos alone is astounding, spotlighting everyone from musicians Eminem and James Taylor to MySpace founder Tom Anderson to a lineup of comedians too long to list.
This is both an asset and a liability, as these surprise guest stars are always entertaining but increasingly excessive.
Giving Sarah Silverman a 90-second spot to make a crude, but admittedly hilarious joke would be better spent exploring more interesting vital characters like Daisy (Aubrey Plaza), Ira’s fellow comic and latent love interest, who in her miniscule role, only serves as a point of posturing between him and his roommates. For that matter, Hill and Schwartzman, talented as they are, only take up time as characters that could be written out entirely.
These dispensable story arcs hold the film back in terms of poignancy, making it the weakest entry in Apatow’s directorial repertory, which he seems to be fashioning into a silver screen lifecycle.
He perfectly captured adulthood and pregnancy in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” respectively, but when it comes to depicting the mid-life crisis, things get a little blurry.
However, as with most dramedies, the indecisiveness in tone will affect different viewers on different levels, ultimately leaving a hung jury with some touched and others bored.
For former standups like Apatow, Sandler and Rogen, dealing with the problematic overlength of “Funny People” is almost exactly like a nightclub act with a discriminative audience – if they’re willing to laugh, they certainly will, but otherwise, you can hear the crickets chirping.
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