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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Funny People (review)

Tears of a Clown

Oh, people are gonna hate this movie.

Look, the jokes are not jokes in Funny People. The humorous-sounding bits of dialogue are not intended to make you laugh so much as they are intended to make you wonder why the characters uttering them are trying to make those around them laugh. It’s not that those bits aren’t pretty funny, for the most part, if you take them out of that context. It’s that that context is specifically about peeling away the top “comedian” layer from the layers underneath that are all about loneliness and anger and regret.
Most people don’t want to discover that the people making them laugh are pathetic and miserable excuses for human beings and who, probably, despise you for worshipping them. Maybe it’s because Adam Sandler generally has not made me laugh that I could laugh, although with cynical recognition at best, quite a lot, at Funny People, in which he turns his public persona inside out to show us the unfunny underbelly of the business of comedy and the unpleasant side of celebrity. I never found the likes of Happy Gilmore or The Waterboy amusing, so it’s no skin off my nose if Sandler’s alter ego here, superstar George Simmons, thinks only five-year-olds and idiots enjoy his movies, like the one in which he plays a guy who gets turned into a baby again by a wizard who nevertheless leaves his 40-something head intact atop an infant body. That’s the kind of stuff I’ve been saying all along, but I can see how that might sting Sandler fans.

So, you know, Sandler (Bedtime Stories, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan) just went up quite a bit in my estimation.

And writer-director Judd Apatow (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, The 40 Year-Old Virgin), too, who returns to his roots of almost painfully wise dramedy — TV’s Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared — with Funny People, in which the comedy is not comedy but instead a symptom of pain. But the Apatow TV project this bleak but shrewd movie harkens back most to is The Larry Sanders Show, on which Apatow served as a writer and producer: the Hollywood funny people weren’t funny there, either, except as a side effect of their attempts not to have to confront their own raging personal issues.

Here, Simmons is forced to deal with his furious bitterness now that he’s learned he’s developed an awful kind of leukemia from which there is unlikely to be any recovery. He was always a jerk, we are not surprised to learn, but impending death has a way of shaking up even a guy like him. So he hires struggling comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to work as his assistant and jokewriter, but mostly so someone will be around his huge rambling manor of a house beside the servants.

Ira’s a jerk-in-training of his own sort, though on the flip side of George: his expectations from new friendships (like what he hopes will be a budding romance with a neighbor) are wildly out of whack, for one. But his emotional vulnerability to almost everyone around him envelops George in its unexpected agreeableness (Rogen here demonstrates a screen charisma that will clearly do him far more good in more sensitive movies than the likes of Knocked Up or Pineapple Express; he’s not a dude, he’s a sweetheart). And George embarks on a mission to right some of the wrongs in his life.

Happily — or, well, not, but you know what I mean — Funny People lingers on the pain, not on the sentiment that could have developed from such a scenario. Though it falls apart as a completely satisfying story toward the end, during an extended detour into an old romantic relationship of George’s that he’d like to renew (with a former actress turned mom and wife played by Leslie Mann: 17 Again, Knocked Up) and then beyond that. It’s almost as if Apatow got as scared as George himself does in the face of too much darkness: the movie stares the real upshot of its story in the face and can’t cope with it, and so tacks on an ending that’s a little more uplifting than everything that came before it suggested was in the offing.

It’ll be too late, at that point, to rescue Funny People for those Sandler and Apatow fans who were expecting a movie about a 40-something guy with his head on a baby’s body. And it disappoints, if only just a little, those of us who were hoping not to get that.


MPAA: rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • Jason

    That’s too bad about the ending. Do you think an original ending screen tested really poorly?

  • Ken

    But… but… but… aren’t you supposed to hate everything that Apatow and Rogen are involved with?!?

    I’m going to go make some popcorn. This is going to be a great thread.

  • MaryAnn

    Do you think an original ending screen tested really poorly?

    The ending that bothers me does feel tacked on. That said, though, it’s hard to imagine that the whole movie wouldn’t have screen-tested badly with audiences who are expecting *Happy Gilmore.*

  • Brian

    Interesting. I might go see this now. (I’m usually allergic to Sandler as well.) It’s curious that Sandler’s character makes a movie about a baby with a 40-year-old’s head, while he himself seems to be just the opposite. I obviously haven’t seen this yet: Do you think that particular metaphor was intentional?

  • riley

    I saw this on Tuesday night. There was a dad with three teenagers at the front of the screening line and had probably been waiting about 3 hours. I saw them after the movie and they were talking about how unfunny it was. I think they were expecting Click or Pineapple Express.

    To this day it still amazes me, with the wealth of information and opinions on the internet, that people put time and money into going to the movies and have no idea what they’re going to see.

  • I know several people who are gung-ho to see “that new Adam Sandler movie” this weekend.

    I can’t wait to hear them poop on this movie.

    I do believe I will enjoy both their reactions and this movie.

  • Kit

    This movie starts off as a great movie, then suddenly turns into a different (also good) movie, but the transition is jarring and it never really unites them. The ending is tacked on, but if they ended it where I thought they were going to, it would’ve been absolutely devastating.

  • I don’t need to see the movie, I can just watch the trailer and figure every thing out. I hate it when they give away the entire plot in the previews. I’ll wait till DVD for this one.

  • amanohyo

    Could this be the first Apatow movie I pay to see? … Nah. I’ll wait with you, Frank from the University of Florida (User Friendly? Ultimate Fighter?) . Although I am much less confident about my plot-figuring-out abilities and I haven’t seen the trailer, I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that Adam Sandler doesn’t die of cancer and ends up with Mrs. Apatow at the end because Mr. Apatow seems a bit too narcissistic and artistically timid to let anything genuinely heartbreaking happen to his main characters, (and yes, I’m still jealous). I hope he ends up surprising me.

  • amanohyo

    Well shoot, I just read the review and MA pretty much says there’s a forced happy ending. When will people learn that that losing to death can sometimes be more hilarious and entertaining (not to mention uplifting) than managing to cheat it for a few more years? I’m not sure how exactly… but I’m sure a decent writer like Apatow could figure out a way, perhaps a tragicomic, ironically moving Bob Barker cameo at the funeral…

  • It looks like everyone wanted Adam Sandler to die in the end.

  • Chris

    Give Sandler a little more respect, this isnt the first time he’s show he can do good acting work. The Wedding Singer, Punch Drunk Love, and Reign on Me were all solid performance on his part. At the same time though, Sandler wants to make money and he can play to the crude side of comedy pretty well, as demonstrated in the first few moments of this movie. Sandler said it himself it’s hard not to do the kind of movies he does now when you think about the fact that your kid is probably going to see your films some day, which is why he hasnt made a film like Happy Gilmore in about 7 years and why he does very little dramatic comedy now. That said hats off to him for agreeing to basically make fun of films that make up the bulk of his work over the last 13 years, thats probably more than Tim Allen, Eddie Murphy and Robin Williams are willing to do.

  • amanohyo

    I don’t know Chris… the list of things that Tim Allen, Eddie Murphy, and Robin WIlliams are not willing to do for money is pretty short. = ) Stand up comics are stereotypically bitter, desperate, perpetually dissatisfied people who will greedily slurp up every last drop of attention they can milk out of the audiences they secretly despise. That’s kinda what this movie (or a large chunk of it) is about… I think.

  • Grinebiter

    The title reminded me of another, half-forgotten film about stand-up comics, I had to dig a bit but it turned out to be “Funny Bones”. Speaking of the nastiness of said comics, there’s one scene where you want to kidnap the Jerry Lewis character out of the screen and do him to death, very very slowly.

  • zids

    This, then, is conclusive proof of MaryAnn NOT hating every movie Apatow made ;)

  • MaryAnn

    SPOILERS!

    It looks like everyone wanted Adam Sandler to die in the end.

    The not-happy ending I was looking for was not for Sandler to die but for him to go back to being the massive jerk he was before he thought he was dying. What felt tacked-on was that last scene in the supermarket, where Sandler makes nice with Rogen and starts acting like a real mentor to him.

    Far more tragic than Sandler dying would have been for him not to have learned a damned thing from the experience we witness here. That’s where I thought the film was actually daring to go after Mann rejected him and then Sandler subsequently rejects Rogen. I wish the film had ended there.

  • Far more tragic than Sandler dying would have been for him not to have learned a damned thing from the experience we witness here. That’s where I thought the film was actually daring to go after Mann rejected him and then Sandler subsequently rejects Rogen. I wish the film had ended there.

    I like your ending better, but it ending wouldn’t appeal as much to the masses, and that means it wouldn’t be as commercially successful. We all know studios love a happy ending ($$$$).

  • Tim1974

    I have no interest in seeing this film. In fact, I have no interest in seeing anything that Apatow has any involvement with. I don’t find his agenda or crude, raunchy comedy funny in the least. Sandler is the only one whom I have at least some respect for and that is only when he is not trying to be funny. I think the idea of a comedian who is dying of cancer and who is trying to pass on his ideas to another could be compelling. However, it needs to be done by others. So, for me I have no intention of seeing “Unfunny People” at the theatre or on DVD.

  • Victor Plenty

    (I probably should start with a spoiler warning even though I haven’t actually seen the movie…)

    Sounds like Sandler is heading toward some sort of Robin Williams career arc, where he makes a series of movies that attempt to make the world a better place by showing us all how to be nice to people for a change.

    If I’m right, don’t worry. After a few years of that he’ll be ready to play somebody darker and edgier, just like Williams ended up doing.

  • Kit

    here be spoilers

    Far more tragic than Sandler dying would have been for him not to have learned a damned thing from the experience we witness here. That’s where I thought the film was actually daring to go after Mann rejected him and then Sandler subsequently rejects Rogen. I wish the film had ended there.

    The editor in my mind has the movie ending on the scene where Sandler gets enveloped my the darkness as his automated curtains lower. CUT AND PRINT AND WAIT FOR OSCAR. Well, not really, but an ending that depressing would have to get a little buzz.

  • Paul

    amanohyo, that Bob Barker cameo wouldn’t have anything to do with ugly hobbits and a goddess of bad perms, would it?

  • amanohyo

    No Paul, that sounds a lot more interesting than anything I had in mind. For some reason, I’m picturing a barefoot Jonah Hill standing next to Seth Rogan cosplaying Galadriel, but I don’t know what you’re referencing.

    SPOILERS

    I see what MA is saying though. It could be pretty gutsy for the movie to kill off Sandler’s character, but to have him start to become a nicer guy, and then revert back to his original assholish self once the threat of cancer was gone would be even more surprising and honest. Okay, that’s it. I won’t comment any more until I’ve seen the movie.

  • Nathan

    SPOILER

    I think Simmons is dying again at the end, but he doesn’t tell Ira because he wants a genuine friendship and not one based on sympathy.

    I have few other reasons to think this other than the scene where he is once again leaving the doctor’s office — this time with the media in his face — looking like he just got bad news. If this were the case it would be kind of a reversal of why he didn’t tell his former girlfriend that he was getting better.

    But maybe this is just me wanting a better ending to a movie that I otherwise thought was pretty good.

  • I see what MA is saying though. It could be pretty gutsy for the movie to kill off Sandler’s character, but to have him start to become a nicer guy, and then revert back to his original assholish self once the threat of cancer was gone would be even more surprising and honest.

    And more like a House episode…

  • Sara

    aren’t you supposed to hate everything that Apatow and Rogen are involved with?!?

    Um, Maryann says in her review (and multiple reviews) that she loves Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared.

  • I have no interest in seeing this film. In fact, I have no interest in seeing anything that Apatow has any involvement with. I don’t find his agenda or crude, raunchy comedy funny in the least. Sandler is the only one whom I have at least some respect for and that is only when he is not trying to be funny. I think the idea of a comedian who is dying of cancer and who is trying to pass on his ideas to another could be compelling. However, it needs to be done by others. So, for me I have no intention of seeing “Unfunny People” at the theatre or on DVD.

    That’s great bro, but literally no one cares.

    *spoilers*

    Funny People was much funnier than I had expected, and I thought the ending was fitting and realistic.

    If you know anything about best friends, you know that you get into fights, but you always end up friends again. Or at least that happens with my friends.

  • Victor Plenty

    Darn it, Frank! The attention economy was working out so well here until you posted that.

  • pedro

    Shall we start with the good? Okay. Seth Rogen. In my book, he is increasingly looking like he Can Do No Wrong. he always does the best with what is given to him, and acts the heck out of any character. Here, he is believable as the goofy teddy-bearish guy who is nice to women and berates his famous flatmate.

    Sandler! Surprise surprise, he can act like a grown-up! I was genuinely surprised with his level of acting here, since it is usually more of the “Mer-Man” and “Re-Do” caliber.

    Now, on to the bad: Sandler’s character’s fixation with genitals is extremely annoying and out of character. This kind of thing is funny when you have a 15-year-old mindset, like the real Sandler does. But George Simmons clearly thinks and acts like a grown-up. A spoiled and slightly bipolar grown-up, but a grown-up nonetheless. Therefore, his constant complimenting of people’s penis sizes becomes grating and childish. I mean, not even jerks do that. Same with his constant taunting and teasing of “Schmira Weener”, who is supposed to be his “only friend” in the world.

    But the worse part is that third-act “twist”, when the movie comes to a screeching halt and veers off in a whole new direction. All is fine until the 90-minute mark. Until then, we were watching a dramedy about a comedian who contracts cancer and seeks to learn something from the experience, namely how to relate to people.

    Then, all of a sudden, it becomes a movie about a devious, bitchy woman, her token jerk boyfriend (who isn’t really a jerk, apart from the cheating) and her equally jerky former lover (with whom, we notice, the husband does his best to get along). It’s like going from watching Scrubs (or, more accurately, Apatow’s own Freaks and Geeks) to watching The King of Queens, complete with precious children and a token fat, clueless guy. It destroys the movie and brings it close to the productions it rightfully despises, such as “Yo Teach!” or “Mer-Man”.

    A final note to an offhand remark: “you and five-year-olds like Mer-Man”, Simmons tells Ira. But just moments before, we saw a luscious blonde asking him to “do Mer-Man” (i.e. the Mer-Man voice) while she is taking it from behind. Inconsistency much?

    Still, Apatow must really be a great filmmaker: I started out liking the movie and ended up disliking it. And to achieve that effect on the viewer, you have to really be something.

  • pedro

    and i agree: the movie should have ended where everyone is saying it should have ended. i.e. after the party with the hilarious cameos and the fight with Ira. that, my friends, would have been An Ending. not the one mentioned above. i was getting ready to love it, but then…SCREW YOU, MR. APATOW!

  • Wooster182

    I really enjoyed this film. This and Easy Virtue have so far been my favorite films of the year, which says a lot because I despise all of Apatow’s other films.

    I am a huge Adam Sandler fan whether he’s playing the dumb ass or someone with more depth (Punch-drunk Love), so I was thrilled we got to see him really prove he could act in this film. I actually think he kicks Brad Pitt’s ass (Ing. Basterds) this summer.

    I, too, agree that the movie falls apart towards the end, but I actually think it’s when we discover (SPOILERS) that he’s going to live. It’s like Apatow didn’t know where to go with it after that and the film becomes really awkward.

    I was also disappointed that it’s only after we discover he’s going to live that we find out how big of a jerk George really is. But this discovery does push the film to the end. I actually like the final scene and thought it was appropriate although it seemed sudden. I think we should have seen a moment of epiphany before it.

    I also felt that this movie not only passed the proverbial torch from George to Ira but from Sandler to Seth Rogen, who was very impressive and heartwarming in this film and who will be the comedian to beat for most likely the next decade, as Sandler has been (whether you like his films or not, the man made box office for several of his films).

    I, too, grew tired of all of the penis jokes but I have realized that if I choose to see a Judd Apatow flick, I’m just going to have to abide them to see any of the good scenes.

  • Pedro

    It’s like Apatow didn’t know where to go with it after that(…)

    How about, I dunno, ENDING IT!?!?!?!?!

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