dir: Judd Apatow
See, the title is meant to be ironic. At least I think that’s the case, since most of the stuff that occurs in Funny People is not funny.
And the funny people who are rich aren’t funny and they aren’t happy. And the funny people who are poor aren’t happy but they are funny. But when rich meets poor, through exploitation and abuse, we get a steaming serving of “we’re all unhappy, rich or poor, unless we’re nice to each other” bullshit.
Isn’t it ironic that funny people are sad, hmm? Don’t you feel sorry for these neglected, forgotten people?
Do I fuck. This is a very odd flick in a lot of ways, odd because it’s increasingly becoming obvious that Apatow tries to wedge as much of his own life story into his films as a way of keeping those close to him happy and employed, but also as an act of revenge by proxy.
Judd Apatow has achieved a certain amount of success as a director and a producer of movies, but he struggled for a long time, especially way back in the day. He came up at a time when a lot of his more famous peers were starting out as well. He even used to share an apartment with some successful guy, what was his name, oh yeah, that’s right, Adam Sandler.
And isn’t it funny that Adam Sandler is in this flick? It opens with some home movie footage of a very young Sandler and some of his goofy friends like Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo, one of whom seems to look suspiciously like Apatow, prank calling people for a laugh. It’s real, in the sense that they are obviously from Apatow and Sandler’s past, and not something fabricated just for the movie, like Apatow’s kids.
Then it cuts to a much older Sandler, sorry, George Simmons, living in an impossibly expensive beach front house, miserably alone, watching five different big screen tvs all with real footage of Adam Sandler through different stages of his career, as far back as his time on Saturday Night Live.
Can you sense what I’m sensing? Simmons, who is affable enough but completely disengaged from any other people in existence, also finds out that he’s dying from some rare form of leukaemia, which surprisingly doesn’t improve his mood.
For reasons unfathomable, despite the fact that Simmons is at the peak of his career, he elects to go back to his “roots”, which has a very different meaning in the US versus its meaning in Australia. He elects to return to the stand-up comedy clubs where he got his start, in order to scramble out some sets of maudlin mediocrity to audiences that can’t believe a star of his magnitude is slumming it in the minor leagues.
Though when they start hearing the maudlin shit he thinks is funny material, they’ll probably figure he’s just going nuts. At one of these stand-up fiascos, he bumps into a young up-and-comer called Ira (Seth Rogen) who’s trying to break in to the comedy field. George decides to ‘keep’ Ira as some kind of assistant / dogsbody / joke writer, but mostly he wants someone around to abuse because he’s lonely and fearful of dying alone.
Ira and George’s relationship is the key one for the majority of the movie, but of course, this being an Apatow fiasco, there have to be a dozen other people around to kick the film’s running time out to a monstrous length. Ira lives on his friend’s couch (Jason Schwartzman) who is very successful due to his role on a very shitty sitcom called Yo, Teach! And for some reason, the shorter, fatter, even less funny version of Seth Rogen hangs around as well (Jonah Hill) with nothing to do.
Throughout this time George veers wildly between being the depressed raging tyrant that you know he probably is in real life, with the grandiose, groupie-fucking egomaniac that you know he probably is in real life.
He uses this time of reflection to change nothing about his life, really, except for providing him with the additional manipulative tool of his impending death to force a reconciliation with an ex (Leslie Mann) who broke up with him 12 years ago who he still pines for as the one woman he’s ever really loved.
If this film is amusing, entertaining or enjoyable at all, it is those things only before the plot focuses on what happens between George and Laura. Before that, at worst, it’s tolerable. George and Ira, let’s face it, Sandler and Rogen have an easy chemistry and back-and-forth dialogue-wise that works a treat, because they’re funny but fundamentally immature guys who can work onscreen. Once it goes into relationship territory, the flick completely goes off the fucking rails, becoming shrill, shallow and pointless.
And those were some pretty flimsy rails to begin with. I don’t know if Adam Sandler ever had sex with Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, or if Judd still resents Sandler to this day for the mega-success Sandler has achieved, or whether Judd hates the world for applauding Sandler from the start, making Apatow struggle for as long as he did before he ‘got’ there as well, but all these things occur to me watching this flick. Apatow, who now has no constraints on what he wants to make as a filmmaker or producer, has no-one stopping him from putting as many details from his own life into his flicks as he wants. It’s also means no-one can tell him to keep his flicks at a reasonable length either.
I like Eric Bana, and many of the people involved in this flick in other things, but, not to exaggerate, what Bana does here in this film is not only an insult to human dignity but is even moreso a blood libel and a treasonous betrayal of the nation and people of Australia. Even worse than that is a horrible fucking sequence where Leslie Mann does a horrendous job trying to imitate an Australian accent, which had the terrifying effect of erasing any goodwill the film might have engendered along the way.
Even worse, and there is an even worse, everything that happens once George and Ira go to visit Laura and her family (those evil Apatow kids feature highly, including a soul-erasing rendition of Memories from Cats by one of the girls) makes all of the characters involved except, perversely, George, look like fucking idiots. The running back and forth, the lies, the last-minute changes of heart, last second drives to the airport, all reminded me of Love, Actually, actually.
And, you know what, fuckers? I don’t want to ever be reminded of that shit ever again.
If I draw any consolation from the film it’s that Adam Sandler is probably too self involved and stupid to realise how unsubtle Apatow’s revenge is upon him, and also that in playing a thinly veiled rendering of himself, Sandler is less like the usual arrested adolescence frat boys that he usually portrays. In an odd turn up for the books, I actually thought Sandler comes out of this the best, out of any of the paper-thin characters on display. He’s the only one who seems vaguely credible, whereas everyone else looks like they’ve escaped from the set of Home and Away. His character arc, as limited as it is, may be Apatow’s way of saying how shallow and self-involved Sandler himself is, but it’s at least more believable than the usual yuppie redemption story where someone becomes a better person through illness or trauma.
George Simmons starts off as a prick and finishes off the film as pretty much the same prick, along the way abusing his underling viciously and trying to derail someone’s marriage because it diverts him for a few hours. Just like real life, yes?
There is an overarching theme which has nothing to do with the plot or the characters per se, which is more about Apatow celebrating his roots in the stand up field, with lots of scenes of many of the main actors and plenty of famous people (some of whom, like Andy Dick, Ray Romano or Eminem, are just not fucking funny here or anywhere else) trying to be funny either on or off stage. There’s so much memorabilia on display in the set design, and referencing of the old school comics that we’re meant to see it as something of a homage. And there’s this almost apologetic shrugging of the shoulders admission that “hey, even if we treat each other like shit, we in the comedy community are united by our love of coming up with funny jokes and hilarious routines for each other, let alone you miserable scum that constitute our public.”
You see, it’s for the pure love of just getting a laugh that these people do what they do, not for an elaborate Count of Monte Cristo style of revenge for perceived wrongs from decades ago.
If you believe that, then I have a comedy club I’d like to sell you. It’s hardly been used, just on Sundays after church.
6 times I wished that Eric Bana had played his horrible role more as Chopper than Poita out of 10
“I just came back from the new Harry Potter movie. Harry's getting old. They should start calling him Harold Potter”, and boy are my arms tired, Funny People