My review of Funny People is online at WestEnder.com
Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen
Directed by Judd Apatow
3 stars (out of 5)
By Andrea Warner
Director Judd Apatow, creator of the brilliant but short-lived TV show Freaks and Geeks, can take full credit — for better or for worse — for the recent reinvention of the R-rated comedy. The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up were box-office hits, the latter making a star out of Seth Rogen (also from Freaks and Geeks). Look closely at Pineapple Express, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall — you’ll see his producer credit tacked on to these exemplifiers of the guy-friendly, dick-joke-heavy smashes that have taken over during the last five years.
In Funny People, his third directorial effort, Apatow digs a little deeper. George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a middle-aged former stand-up comedian who’s become rich and famous making crappy, family-friendly Hollywood blockbusters. Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) is an up-and-coming comedian who sleeps on the couch of his more successful friends (Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill) and works at a deli. George is ill and reevaluating his life, leading him back to his roots in stand-up. He asks Ira to write him some jokes, and the bromance begins.
But then, halfway through the film, Apatow’s real-life family shows up, and Funny People takes a sharp left turn — and it just can’t nail the landing. Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) plays Laura, the girl George drove away 12 years ago. She’s now a mom to two adorable girls (Mann and Apatow’s own children), and a wife to a philandering Aussie, played with spunk by Eric Bana. It’s not a bad plot development, but it jarringly moves the action away from the film’s core for about half an hour, and never manages to feel integrated.
Funny People’s saving grace is that it’s chock full of genuinely funny people, feeling like a neat behind-the-scenes glimpse of the comedy world. And the cameos are pure catnip for stand-up fans, with everyone from Norm MacDonald to Sarah Silverman popping up. Even folk-rock legend James Taylor gets in a laugh, and a random bit between Eminem and Ray Romano brings new respect for both.