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Don’t Count on Funny People

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer

Judd Apatow's latest is filled with sincerity, yet fails to deliver much of an impact, or very many laughs for that matter.

ImageTwo years ago, the entire world officially began its love affair with Judd Apatow during the summer of Knocked Up and Superbad. He became the new King of Comedy, and the formula he “created,”  – raunchy male-based humor with a “heart” – has since become so synonymous with him that a new word was even created to prove it. In fact, Apatow has become so popular that most people credit him with every such movie that has come out SINCE Knocked Up, despite the fact that he is only marginally attached to most of them. To wit, Funny People is only the third feature film on Judd Apatow’s resume, and it is all but guaranteed to be the first one to begin to tarnish his sterling reputation.

Funny People tells the story of George Simmons (Adam Sandler), an A-List movie star and comedian who has an unlimited supply of money and fame, yet is dealing with his own mortality due to a rare blood disease. Through a random encounter at a comedy club, he meets Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a struggling comedian dealing with a flagging career, and jealously over the thriving careers of his friends. Soon enough, Ira is George’s assistant, basking in the reflected wealth and fame, and also adding a dose of humanity into George’s closed-off existence.

Full disclosure: I am no Apatow apologist. I wrote one of the few dissenting opinions out there on both Knocked Up (which he wrote and directed) and Superbad (for which he did neither). Personally I found that these movies – and most of the others of their modern ilk – suffer from a serious lack of “heart” and an appalling overabundance of running time. So for me, any review of Funny People has to be done through these two lenses.

The “Heart” – in Knocked Up, Apatow not only presented a doomed couple at its center (Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen), but he also went so far as to show us exactly HOW they’d fail, in the guise of the other couple (Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd) that stayed married for their kids, and yet hated each other. Because of this, I saw this movie as actually very sad, even as the credits rolled over its ostensibly “happy” ending.  There is a profound difference between heartfelt and saccharine.

As if answering this challenge, Funny People is easily Apatow’s most personal project to date. Not only has he cast his wife in the main female role (not that surprising, as she is one of his regulars), but he has also cast his two daughters as well, and even goes so far as to include actual footage of one of them singing at a talent show. Clearly, Apatow has put much of himself into this project.

As a result of all this, Funny People is truly filled with the “heart” that everyone else seems to see in all of Apatow’s films. That’s the good news. However, by putting so much of his love (and loves) into this movie, the end product is a mishmash of stories that should have been pared down drastically. Remember that synopsis from a few paragraphs ago? That would have made a great movie. But that is only the first half of Funny People. Soon enough, it turns into an awkward domestic comedy about trying to reclaim lost love (featuring the aforementioned Apatow brood), and then takes a hairpin final lap into a bromance. Apatow put in tons of sincerity, but he could also have used an eraser.

The Length – I contend that good comedies run about 90 minutes, give or take a few either way. Any longer than this, and you risk taking your audience out of the experience. Knocked Up was a pretty great ninety minute film. The only problem is that it actually runs two hours, and those last thirty minutes contain 99% of everything that’s wrong with it.

As I sat in the theater before Funny People started, a woman behind me turned to her friend and said “Two hours and sixteen minutes.” I struggled to imagine what the question was that she was answering, even though I knew deep down what it was. By the time Sandler and Rogen are playing house with the Apatows, I was checking my watch; not out of boredom, but more simple disbelief. It MIGHT be forgiven if this extra time were funny in any way, but this entire section is mostly of the semi-serious variety, more likely to elicit coughs than laughs. When the movie finally did end, the audience was stretching and reacting as though they had just been through a long flight, not the latest comedy blockbuster from the genius of our generation.

After seeing Funny People, I have to believe that even Apatow’s most ardent supporters will have to see the flaws inherent in it. The moments of hilarity are there like they were in his previous efforts (most notably a scene involving Ray Romano and Eminem – really!), but they are not as prevalent, and there is too much maudlin in between.  He just might be the genius that everyone thinks he is (his earlier television work proved that to me), but it seems that he needs some distance from his projects (not to mention his friends and family who we are going to start getting tired of soon, I guarantee it), as well as an editor brave enough to rein him in.

In the end, it takes way too long to reveal that in Funny People, Judd Apatow has done a great job giving us the last word, while skimping on the first, and taking too much time to do it.