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  Funny People That Title Is Asking For Trouble
Year: 2009
Director: Judd Apatow
Stars: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, RZA, Aziz Ansari, Torsten Voges, Andy Dick, Charles Fleischer, George Coe, Paul Reiser, Sarah Silverman, Bryan Batt, Justin Long
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is one of the world's most successful comedians, both as a stand-up and as a movie star, and he's off to see his doctor today. He's in a good mood as he stops to pose for photographs with his adoring public, but not so happy after he leaves the surgery as he has just been told he has a very serious form of leukemia and the chances are he's going to die soon. There is a slim hope the medication George is put on can save him, but even then the disease could come back at any time, if it is cured at all...

Well, that's a hilarious premise for a film, isn't it? Maybe not, but that's the idea director Judd Apatow took for his lingering look at the mindset of comedians, himself being no stranger to that as comedy had become his stock in trade, turning him into one of the most powerful producers in the field of his generation. However, once audiences got a whiff of the depression hanging over this story they tended to stay away, this in spite of a major star like Adam Sandler leading it, and little wonder as Sandler was saddled with one of his least likeable characters.

Simmons is a curiously artificial concoction, an amalgam of what you presume to be a selection of actual performers Apatow had known over the years, including Sandler himself - the movie clips we see of George's work are the kind of silly fare which you could conceive of making the actual Sandler a lot of money at the box office, here in throwaway gags set in a film that did him few favours. Yet you never really believe in the star within the fiction as Sandler remains muted, as if embarrassed to be delivering this kind of grown up material, and in spite of his credentials in the genre, he comes across as badly miscast when he's supposed to be acting like a real person.

There's such a sluggish air of seriousness about Funny People that's it's difficult to call it a true comedy, and much of it feels half finished, probably thanks to Apatow's faith in improvisation which bears little fruit as far as securing laughs goes here. For a start, it's more two films in one, as if about an hour or so in everyone thought this wasn't going too well and it turns into a romantic drama with comic overtones as George's ex, Laura (Leslie Mann), becomes a part of his life again after he breaks the sad news to her, and she has to choose between living with him or her frequently absent on business trips, and cheating, husband Clarke (Eric Bana).

That's not all that sidesplitting either, but a note of optimism can be struck by the presence of Seth Rogen, who plays the brightest character here - not necessarily the most intelligent, but he is the most likeable of the leads. Rogen's struggling stand-up Ira is hired by lonely George to write material for him, which he is flattered by until it's clear to us if not him that the megastar simply yearns for company. Or that's the idea, as Sandler plays him so emotionally constipated that who knows what's really going on in his head? Every so often Apatow got his cast of, well, funny people to perform a routine, but if this is the best they can do the you worry for their careers as practically every joke they can think of is about dicks, which gets repetitive when no wit is in evidence otherwise.

To add to the self-indulgence, Apatow puts his kids in the movie too (one of them even sings!), making this look even more like a home movie that happened to have a fair budget behind it, not to mention all those celebs in cameos. Bad tempers can make for good comedy, yet here they were weirdly aiming for the heartstrings as well to depict a man with all the success in the world he ever wanted finding it was not enough, so you were stuck with a mishmash of conflicting scenes that one minute will invite us to laugh at George getting laid all he wants because he's famous, then have us wallow in poignancy as he can only admit to Ira and nobody else how dire his situation is. Needing a far firmer controlling hand from its creator, this was a sour, shapeless effort all round. Music by Michael Andrews and Jason Schwartzman (who also shows up as Ira's sitcom star flatmate).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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