Funny People takes a painfully long time to say nothing and go nowhere. It’s the kind of screenplay that should have been cut in half, redrafted and then sent back to film school for notes. Unfortunately Judd Apatow is now at the point in his career where, as he put it plainly at last year’s Comic-Con panel, he has the studios by “one ball” if not both. This would explain why at the hour-and-a-half mark of a movie about comedians in Los Angeles the film pointlessly transplants itself to San Francisco to become a love story about Apatow’s wife, actress Leslie Mann, and conveniently reiterates how desirable and talented she is. While Mann is admittedly very funny and generally skilled at conveying a point, this movie is not and should be chastized heavily for leading its audience down two distinct and contrary trails, neither of which resolves itself or lives up to the funny promised in the title.
I don’t want to sound like an Apatow-hater. The man has done more for comedy than Bill Clinton’s dick. But at some point, like an aging musician who survived a whirlwind of success in his youth, old dog Apatow got lazy and started shoveling out anecdotes and instances in lieu of story and character. If you’ve seen the theatrical trailer for Funny People you know exactly what happens in the movie, point-by-point. The only things you’re missing are the briefly hilarious moments featuring Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman as Seth Rogen’s roommates, performers in one of the best sitcom parodies ever conceived. Everything else in this film is ancillary. The love story, the medical drama, the relationship between Rogen and Sandler- none of these threads result in anything funny, touching or particularly memorable. Whereas 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up had heart, Funny People has a gaping void where the soul should be, throbbing in agony as it listlessly stumbles to its conclusion.
I’d like to write more positively on the subject, but I really don’t know what to say. Many of my friends have claimed that Funny People is two movies in one, to which I reply, “Yeah, two bad movies.” If either movie was valuable on its own, we might have something to work with here, but neither Rogen’s or Sandler’s journeys are particularly noticeable or interesting. While Rogen is back to basics as a sweeter version of himself (after a brief and tremendously lousy stint with acting in Observe & Report), the real culprit here is Sandler, a generally fantastic performer capable of intense and powerful characterizations (i.e. Punch-Drunk Love) as well as moments of shocking hilarity (i.e. You Don’t Mess With the Zohan). In Funny People, Sandler transforms into an old Hollywood douchebag, the kind of person we hope he’ll never be in real life. It’s neither fun or compelling to see him fill this role, and it’s almost a shame we don’t get to see him transform into a baby or portray a Merman like he does in the fake movie clips within Funny People. While patently retarded, at least those concepts have more legs/fins to stand on than Funny People, a movie that never decides what it wants to be, what it has to say (if anything), and why it deserves to exist other than to pat Apatow and his wife on the back for all the better movies they’ve made. By the time we reach the third act (of twelve) and Apatow shuffles all of his old comedy cohorts into one of many needless cameo compilations, the whole thing seems more self-indulgent than anything even Wes Anderson could have concocted. Rather than too-precious characters, we’re dealing with characters and a universe that aren’t precious enough, with nothing remarkable or interesting to take away from it. In the same way that Charlie Kaufman’s Synechdoche, New York perfectly simulated real life by being both terrible and boring, Funny People perfectly simulates the life of a comedian in Los Angeles: it’s painful, not as funny as it looks, and you definitely lose money on the deal.
Grade: C- *
* This grade is slightly higher than it should be because of the Jason Schwartzman factor. Plus Aziz Ansari, while painfully underused, is featured in this movie. Like twice. That has to count for something.