Retro Review: Funny People

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It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m avoiding watching Leatherheads on my PC. It’s the last movie I’ve got to see from a bunch a friend gave me, and it’s not speaking to me just yet. So, instead of that, I head to the store up the road to rent something. I repeat: renting. Don’t you have to squint into your reading glasses and call nerds “squares” to do that kind of thing?

There I was, inspecting the racks and deciding if there’s anything Hollywood churned out in the last year or so – anything I hadn’t already paid to see – that I’d watch at home. Funny People caught my attention because of its cover. Surely I was to expect only the highest caliber of entertainment from writer/director Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin; Knocked Up), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up; The 40-Year-Old Virgin) and Adam Sandler (I’m gonna go with “Punch/Drunk Love” and “Anger Management” on this one, since I’m not 12 anymore) (…okay. Maybe “Happy Gilmore” and “The Wedding Singer”, for old times sakes)?

Here’s the story: George Simmons (Sandler) is a famous, successful comedian, having made the transition from stand-up routines to Rob Schneider-style transformation films (which is ironic, I guess, because Adam Sandler produces those films in real life). He finds out he’s dying, and after a bout of on-stage self-examination, discovers aspiring comedian Ira (Rogen). George hires Ira to writes his jokes, open his act, and hang out with him because he has no real friends. These are both “funny people”, but each of them lacks something that the other seems to have. George’s world is populated by the Hispanic servants that tend his home and the hot bitches that he gets to bang. Ira’s is filled with friends – a bunch of fame-hungry comedians played by Jonah Hill, Aubrey Plaza and Jason Schwartzman (who plays a D-list sitcom star so effectively that you want him to be real).

The movie operates in the world next door; a realm of self-awareness that intersperses real clips from Adam Sandler’s early career into his character’s life, and makes repeated nods to the real world (Seth Rogen’s weight loss comes up a few times). The film uses its enhanced reality to balance the funny bits – and there are some very funny bits – with its more thought-provoking moments. When Leslie Mann, as George’s ex, enters the picture, he tries his best to make amends for the bastard he used to be. The movie takes a dip into the dramatic here again, but it never feels heavy-handed or like it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the picture. In fact, Apatow manages to summon the humour that’s inherent in life, death and everything else human beings go through, and uses that to set the movie off on its journey without things zig-zagging to some Hollywood climax. Like I said, there are funny bits, but there are also moments too thought-provoking and dramatic to just count as pure comedy. And then you get Eric Bana actually playing an Australian, which has become a rare sight, and it’s back to making you laugh at something that probably wasn’t meant to be funny.

Ultimately, this is a movie that sort of surprises you. It’s surprising in that it’s not purely laugh-a-minute comedy, and in that it’s so clever and real, and in that it doesn’t always go for the most obvious laughs or plot developments. It’s long – 2 and a half hours – and that works in it’s favour; in completing the illusion of this being the real story of a real person. All in all, it’s a very mature, very different film than you might expect, but that doesn’t make it a letdown.

In a nutshell: Funny People is clever, dramatic, engaging and possibly too long. Also, it’s funny.
See it if You like: The 40-Year-Old Virgin (it’s not as uproariously funny, but just as clever and heartfelt)
Rating (in erections): Full bone.

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