Production Budget: $75 million
Worldwide Gross: $71 million
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a comedian who has hit it big with his movie career. When he discovers he has a terminal illness he reflects on how lonely he is and how unfulfilled he is in his career. He goes back on the improv circuit and takes on Ira (Seth Rogen), a young green performer, as a protege.
Funny People isn’t really a movie about coping with an illness such as, say, 50/50 which came out this year. Instead, the illness is merely a way to provide George with self-reflection. While I don’t know how much of Apatow’s real feelings are a part of this movie, it is partly based on Sandler (whom he lived with early in their careers) and Rogen. Funny People is seemingly a reflection of fame and the especially cutthroat comedy industry. Fame itself is cutthroat, but there is something about the way characters in this movie (and potentially in Apatow’s own experience) act especially dog-eat-dog when it comes to being “funny people“. No one thinks about collaborating with other comedians as they want to protect their jokes like diamonds. Ira and his friends are on a small surface level, happy of each other’s success, but are incredibly bitter and resentful on the inside. There are a lot of barbs thrown at one another which could be seen as playful ribbing, but to me it seems more malicious.
There is also this belief that great comedy comes from great tragedy. So not only is George a loner because he is a greedy, self-obsessed a-hole, but almost because he has more of a desire to keep his comic edge. I doubt if this was intended, but it is a strange feeling I got about George. It seems like he is so obsessed about being funny that he subconciously sabotages everything meaningful for some good material.
Funny People took me a while to get to. This was due to the rather ‘blah‘ reviews coupled with the long running time. This is just my personal belief of course, but it is a rare comedy that can be great over two hours. Comedies are at their best when they are streamlined and hit you with their best stuff. It is hard to keep audiences on that high energy level as you have to with comedies. Hell, I could go to a comedy show with all of my favorite comedians of all time and I would still get burned out at around the 100 minute mark. There is only so much hilarity you can take in one sitting before you need to chill out.
Is Funny People one of those rare exceptions for me where it stays great during its 146 minute run time? Sadly no. I was actually really liking it through the first two acts before tiring out completely at the two hour mark. The last act is about George trying to win back former lover Laura (Leslie Mann) from her husband Clarke (Eric Bana). It is strange that I lauged quite a bit during this act and really liked the performances of Mann and Bana, but still felt this plot line could have been almost completely cut and would have helped the movie. The romance feels like an afterthought as Laura really has no character or any development despite her screen time. The point of it all is to show that George didn’t learn anything from his near death experience and is still a selfish ass. That point really didn’t need to be stretched to over 30 minutes and shows that a few edits would have made this a great movie instead of a good one.
The acting is very good overall. I have grown to loathe Adam Sandler comedies so I appreciate any time he doesn’t do one of his Happy Madison bowel movements. He does a fine job although I will say there were times where he was struggling with the dramatic material. He was asked to do a little too much at times and it comes off as really strained. The rest of the supporting cast and Rogen in particular are really good though.
As I said before, I was enjoying Funny People quite a bit for a lot of the long running time. Apatow is able to make these characters, who can act pretty dickish at times, charming and likable at others. There were many funny moments as there was a good balance of written jokes and seemingly some good improv moments. I also felt like there was some good depth to the movie with the dramatic elements.
That being said, the movie does lose a ton of steam as it keeps going on and on and on to its two hour and thirty minute end time. The pacing is way too leisurely, some plot threads meander too much, and some are downright unnecessary. Apatow does great with the comedy and has some good dramatic ideas, but he falters in actually executing them. Funny People could have used a few more re-writes and a good editor to tighten everything up. If you are a fan of Sandler’s usual type of comedy then I don’t think you will like it. If you like Sandler’s more dramatic turns, then you may want to check it out. Overall, it is good, but it could have been much better.