Dueling Film Reviews - Round One: JDub on "Funny People"

Posted 5/21/2010 by JDub in Labels: , , , , , ,
If you're anything like me, you hear of a film coming out directed by Judd Apatow and starring many of his usual suspects in Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, plus Adam Sandler, and you get a little excited. Apatow is a quintessential auteur, and because of this, I personally find myself going into his films with certain expectations.

Namely, I expect anything he's written, directed, and/or produced to be funny, basically light-hearted, and not terribly deep. These usually aren't the kind of films you'd expect to see win very many awards with the Academy, but you know they'll be fun and entertaining none the less.

At a very basic level, Apatow's "Funny People" seems to follow right along with these trends. I find the dialogue hilarious and less contrived than it could have been. But don't be fooled: in fact, this film is a drama masquerading as an Apatow comedy. Yes, it's funny, and yes, it's generally light-hearted, but it's also nearly two and a half hours long, and deals in noticably heavier subject matter than one might have expected.

Most Apatow films celebrate casual sex, the use of drugs and alcohol, materialism, and generally deviant behavior, but it is all of these things which Adam Sandler's character rejects when he learns he has a terminal form of cancer. Sandler is excellent in the role: snarky, jaded, and yet totally oppressed by his momento mori. Contrast this with Seth Rogen's character, an aspiring comic who suddenly is thrust into the celebrity lifestyle: his fresh sense of wonder highlights Sandler's depression.

I think "Funny People" employs some of the most effective celebrity cameos of any film I've ever seen. Because Adam Sandler is playing himself, a celebrity, his relationship with other celebrities on screen causes them to become true characters in the film. James Taylor yells "Fuck Facebook!" after a set of music at a MySpace corporate function, Sara Silverman cracks vagina jokes with Sandler just before delivering a pretty excellent stand up comedy routine on camera. Marshall Mathers yells profanely (and hilariously) at Ray Romano across a restaurant for very little reason. There is definitely a focus on humanizing celebrities in this film by presenting them as belivable people.

I'm very satisfied with what Apatow's been able to do with "Funny People," yet I am simlutaneously aware that the film seems to fail somehow. It is simply too damn long. I could have done without perhaps thirty to forty-five minutes of the second half scenes. In the end, the film seems to lack a unified focus because of its rambling length.

Obviously there have been plenty of films to straddle the line between comedy and drama effectively, but "Funny People" seems to shift between purely comedic scenes, and scenes of drama, rather than allowing the two to coexist. The cast carries this film, elevating a bloated, Frankenstein script to something with a very real, natural feel and plenty of humor. Now, if only the script weren't stepping on those toes...

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