I've been one of the biggest critics of Adam Sandler's films for the longest time. I completely abhor his stupid comedies but I love his dramatic output (Punch Drunk Love, Reign Over Me). I've also been pretty critical of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen in the past. Do I find them to be funny? Yes. Do I feel that their films tend to be formulaic? Absolutely. Do I think that they've done somewhat of a disservice to female characters and catered too much to their fratboy fanbase too much in the past? Ya damn skippy! I think it's time for Judd Apatow to prove that he's capable of writing and directing a well rounded film for a goddamn change!
Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen have the opportunity to do all the things they get criticized for not doing in previous films. The women in "Knocked Up" were completely devoid of humor and they often relied on comedy that appealed to the lowest common denominator in the past. As funny as "The 40 Year Old Virgin", "Knocked Up", "Superbad" & "Pineapple Express" were Apatow and company had painted themselves into a sort of creative corner. The last thing they wanted to do was to typecast themselves so they set out to expand their cinematic horizons with the filming of "Funny People".
"Funny People" tells the story of Ira Wright, a struggling stand up comedian who moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of breaking into Hollywood and becoming successful. He's working in a deli to help pay rent and sleeping on a fold out couch while his roommates are doing much better than he is. He hasn't yet "found the funny" and he's just floundering. Ira essentially worries that he's never going to get out of his current rut and wonders if he's just doomed for disappointment or possibly even failure.
His roommates do several things in the hopes of motivating him to step his game up. Many of these methods are taken from Sandler, Apatow and Rogen's own experiences during their salad days in the entertainment industry so they ring true and draw the viewer right in. Especially when the early footage of Adam Sandler (as his character) is used. The film seems to straddle the fence between comedy and drama as well as staying steeped in the real world far more than any of Apatow's previous films have done. The relationship between Ira and his friends seems genuine.
Ira's roommate Mark stars on a popular television sitcom and is doing rather well for himself. Ira's other friend and roommate Leo has began smashing shit at the local comedy club and has a few viral videos online that are getting him some serious buzz as well. He gets up everyday, folds up the couch bed (or doesn't), write jokes, goes to work and hopes that he can work his way out of the number 3 spot that he's been stuck in with his friends as well as finally tap into what works in his comedy so he can stick with it and get to where he wants to go. His life is changed when George Simmons shows up and the comedy club to do a set where he bombed right before Ira came up.
Ira manages to do somewhat well in the wake of George's horrible set and afterwards the somber George Simmons congratulates him and bounces. Later on, Ira gets a call from the legendary comedian & comic actor to write jokes for him and be his assistant along with his pal Leo. Ira tells George that Leo wouldn't be interested but he is and he takes the job. Ira and George begin their one sided relationship as he writes George jokes and George essentially tells him what works and what doesn't. The more they hang out and work together, the better at writing Ira gets and the better material George ends up with.
In addition to working with George Simmons to write jokes, George gives Ira advice with how to be better and more aggressive and take charge in his every day life so he doesn't feel that he should be relegated to being stuck in his bottom of the totem pole position with his friends and peers. Since George is successful and famous worldwide, he's become cynical and isolated due to his celebrity so he has no close friends anymore, Ira ends up becoming a sounding board for him as well. George has also become quite a selfish asshole due to it and his relationship with Ira seems to be humanizing him somewhat.
Another reason this film worked so well to me is because of the way the main female characters in it were written. For a change they weren't either oversexed, crazy, completely devoid of humor or just the perfect woman. They were as layered and complex as the male characters were. This was also helped by the fact this film was stuck in real world physics as opposed to being a popcorn movie where we had to just sit there, suspend relief and laugh our asses off while ridiculous thing after ridiculous thing happens on screen. You actually feel as if you're watching people's lives unfold before you.
The relationships between the characters in "Funny People" really resonate because it delves deep into the dynamic of personal relationships and the psychology surrounding them. Ira is enamored with a female comedian named Daisy (played by Aubrey Plaza) that lives across the street. His boy Mark as well as George keep trying to kick his ass into gear so he'll go after her otherwise he'll be sorry later on. I can totally see why Complex Magazine thinks that she's Apatow's biggest find since Emma Stone, she has a kinda nerdy Scarlett Johansson look going there. Plus she's funny without trying too hard to be. Good one, Apatow.
This film has deals with many different issues simultaneously regarding comedy, the art of comedy, different philosophies regarding the delivery of the joke, intrapersonal relationships, the insulation of success, how hard it is to be a famous person going through real life shit in the public eye, etc. I was afraid that I would give away too many spoilers in writing this review but I later realized that so much shit happened within that nearly 2 1/2 hours of viewing time that I couldn't possibly give it all away with this blog. Not even close...
George thought he was going to die. He was sure of it, after he was given a clean bill of health he decided that maybe it's time he really begin living. He contacts Laura, a former actress he was going to marry 12 years ago before he fucked up the relationship and cheated on her. He decides that he should get back with her since she was the love of his life and he can't stand being lonely anymore like he was previously. From here it's like we've entered a third film that deals with the dynamic of marriage and what you sacrifice of yourself to start, raise and maintain a family.
When George and Ira visit Laura at her home, meet her children (played by the adorable Apatow kids, Iris & Maude) and play house until her husband Clarke shows up you get a sense of how Judd Apatow really drew from his own personal experiences and aspects of his own home life to make the scenes that more real and believable. It's almost scary how much heart was infused in this film in comparison to his other ones. While you're still laughing at something funny that happened or was said you're also genuinely invested in these characters and care what happens to them next.
The one thing I haven't yet discussed is Adam Sandler's performance in this film. I think he did a great job in blended his comedic talents in with his underrated dramatic acting ability. I like Adam Sandler a lot more when I don't have to watch an entire film where he's completely stupid or annoying. Adam Sandler is pretty damn good at being a cocky asshole on camera. Watching the character of George Simmons transform from borderline depressed superstar asshole to a caring guy who wants to live life for the first time (or not) was engrossing to say the least.
I'm not going to give away exactly what happens with George's attempt to get his old flame back and start an instant family with Laura and her little girls. I'm not even going to go into any detail about Laura and Clarke's relationship issues. I'm not going to write about any of the funny things that happened or the scenes and lines that really sold me on this movie because you'd have to have seen it first for me to do so. I give this film a mos def and congratulate Judd Apatow on doing what Tyler Perry has failed to do...make a well rounded film and step away from using a formula that ensures success at the box office.