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Aug012009

Review - Funny People ****1/2

Funny People is a fantastic film, that happens to be funny. If you just want to roll over laughing, and don’t care to feel other emotions, I’d suggest something else—like The Hangover. This runs a bit deeper. It’s not 40 Year-Old Virgin 2 or Knocked Up Again. Funny People is Judd Apatow grown up, and he’s brought Adam Sandler with him.

Adam Sandler plays George Simmons who is, well, a lot like Adam Sandler. He’s a middle-age famous, rich film comedian. He’s best known for doing funny voices and singing goofy songs. George’s movie career has been successful, at least financially. His movies are pretty over the top. In one film, Re-Do, he plays a man with a baby’s body; in Merman, (an obvious nod to Zoolander) he plays a fish out of water, literally.

Though George Simmons’ movies have more in common with Eddie Murphy’s 1995+ career than Adam Sandler’s, Sandler is basically playing himself, and he does a damn good job. This is his best acting to date. George lives alone in a gigantic mansion, large enough for people to get lost in, and seems pretty happy with his life. He shoots the shit with other big comedians and poses for pictures whenever he’s out on the town. Then he finds out that he’s dying. George has a rare type of Leukemia (it’s terminal) and the treatment only has an 8% success rate.

Cue Ira Wright (Seth Rogen). Ira is a struggling stand-up comedian without much confidence. He’s doing what most comedians start out doing, performing small gigs for free and bombing most of the time. George is really depressed because of the whole dying thing and bombs his gig at the club. Because of a vacancy, Ira performs right after him. Though I thought his set was terrible, George thinks he’s a good writer and calls him to see if he wants to write some jokes for a MySpace gig he has coming up. Of course, Ira is ecstatic and jumps at the chance to hang out with the famous George Simmons. What George really wants, it turns out, is a friend. For all his money and fame, Ira is the only person he tells about his disease.

Adam Sandler effortlessly embodies George Simmons. I couldn’t dream up a better role for Sandler. When faced with death, he realizes how alone he’s been, but struggles with the selfish habits that lead him to this prosperous, but lonely life. We see his setbacks and successes and truly get to know George. Seth Rogen is great as Ira as well, and even jokes about his real-life weight loss several times. Funny People is full of real characters dealing with real issues.

I don’t think it’s fair to judge Funny People on how often you find yourself laughing. You will laugh, but it isn’t The Pineapple Express or Superbad, and doesn’t want to be. Instead, Apatow has made a movie about more than its joke count. I cared about the characters in Funny People. I found myself angry at George one minute, and feeling bad for him the next. He’s a complex, real character, which is rare in a comedy these days.

I read an interview with Judd Apatow the other day; he said Funny People is a passion project of his. I can believe it. Apatow-produced films have dominated comedy cinema for half a decade now. Funny People feels familiar, but refreshing at the same time. If Apatow makes more movies this good, he’ll be dominating the box office well into the next decade.

Score: 4.5 out of 5 (Excessively Great, go see it on the big screen)

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