Just For Laughs 2009 – Funny People

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200px-posterfunnypeopleFunny People
Directed by Judd Apatow

Creating a hero has been easy for Judd Apatow; whether you’re a 40-year old man who has never had sex or a 20-something freeloader accidentally knocking up a girl during a one night stand, you best be sure these people will rise to the occasion. The hero in Apatow’s new much anticipated tragicomedy, Funny People, however, is hard to distinguish. The characters are surrounded by their own personal demons brought on by their strong desire for fame, fortune and the perfect life, and also by their sexual insecurities (insert penis joke here), which make them out to be overgrown, whining children. But that’s okay, because they are all funny comedians. Well, sort of.

The film is about a struggling stand-up comedian Ira (Seth Rogan) who is hired by popular comic and movie star George Simmons (Adam Sandler) to be his personal assistant and joke-writer. Not long after, George tells Ira he has been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Apprehensive about the way he has lived his life, George decides to restore his relationships with friends, family members and above all, the love of his life, Laura (Leslie Mann), who is now married with children.

The film stands out as an escape from Apatow’s previous films (The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up) and enters a realm that many fans may find reminiscent to his Freaks and Geeks days. The film is more sitcom than it is motion picture worthy, where every nook and cranny in the script is filled with flaky characters and fluffy plot points. As such, Funny People could easily have been told as an hour long television episode, rather than its excruciating two and a half hour runtime.

sandlerfunnypeopleSandler gives a decent performance as the self-loathing George, with similar attributes to his character from Punch-Drunk Love. Reckless, cold-hearted and confused, it’s easy for audience members to get lost in George’s puppy-dog eyes, but still very hard for us to escape from his childish antics, even in a time of life reevaluation. In short, Adam Sandler plays more nuanced version of past Adam Sandler roles.

What is disappointing is Mann’s unappreciative Laura. Noticed in other Apatow films as the quirky sidebar, Mann finally takes on the female lead, a woman hurt in the past by the unreliable, commitment-phobic George and is not sure if he can be trusted again. In the end, are we able to trust Laura? Mann’s story line sticks out like a sore thumb that can leave audience members with a bitter taste in their mouths.

Some of Hollywood’s biggest comedic names provide cameos throughout the film, which are more or less there to perk audience’s attention (or to distract them – Eminem? Really?). An Apatow film would not be complete without the many euphemisms and jokes based on male genitalia. Man-children of the world, unite!

eminem-in-funny-peopleThe film is beautifully shot by frequent Spielberg collaborator Janusz Kaminski. Kaminski is able to capture images with best intention, playing with elements of light, dark and shaky close-ups to bring out emotional instability. But in an Apatow film, Kaminski’s cinematography seems out of place. We have to constantly ask ourselves, is this really an Apatow film? Or is this just his way of being artsy?

Funny People has the intention of being this summer’s biggest comedy. But in the end, the film turns out to be an over-indulgent Terms of Endearment wannabe with dick jokes. There are a lot of fantastic one-liners, sure to catch on with fans, but the film as a whole fails to bring viewers its much anticipated Apatow-esque feel. Although the drive is there, Funny People misses its punch line.

Eric Hatch

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