Sunday, October 04, 2009

Funny People

Stand Off

I guess in our current era Team Apatow has been defining the way comedies are done on film, where filthy toilet jokes are staple while casting not-so-good looking nerdy actors (re: charismatic of course) in lead roles consisting of everyday characters with issues we can identify with in broad strokes. With his hands in a lot of pies, bringing along his chums for a ride, it's somewhat of a surprise actually that this is only the third film to be directed by Judd Apatow.

Many have been quick to point out that Funny People, well, just isn't funny enough when compared to The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. But may I add that they've got it all wrong. If you examine the film carefully, this is Apatow's ode to his family and friends at this current stage of their success, a cautionary tale if you like in reminding the team that they shouldn't get carried away by their success and start to behave like pricks, which is epitomized by Adam Sandler's George Simmons, a successful multi-millionaire comedian who is without real friends, and finding out that he's suffering from the last stages of a critical health condition.

This of course puts him into panic mode, especially when he has all the material wealth one can dream of, but really his life is but an empty shell, like a smiling clown who's actually crying inside. He decides to go back to his roots, which is stand-up comedy, and meets luckless Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), whom he gives a big break in becoming his personal assistant, as well as to draft funny lines and comedic situations for him. Yeah, I guess everyone needs a writer from time to time, especially when you can pay for one!

It's really about the haves and the have-nots, which Apatow contrasts nicely with George Simmons on one side, and on the other the trio of Ira, Leo (Jonah Hill) and Mark (Jason Schwartzman), the latter who is a minor television celebrity, and the most successful of the trio. The usual Apatow vulgar buddy-jokes take on a whole new life altogether, and those looking for laugh out loud comedy, then be prepared to be in stitches each time the trio share the screen, or during the various stand-up comedy moments. Cameo appearances also provide some quick laughs, and I especially cracked up at Eminem's moment with Ray Romano, on a theme about the handling of celebrity status.

Funny People actually contains two movies in one, with the other being what has been the target board since it reduced the comedy for more dramatic moments, which I thought was fine. Apatow casted his own wife Leslie Mann as Laura, George's one true love and the proverbial one who had gotten away. Laura is now married to Eric Bana's Clarke, and has a happy family to boot (Apatow's own children Maude and Iris play their kids). I thought this was extremely smart, in wanting to tell a story about the innate curiosity of that one ex-flame, what better way to do so than to cast your own wife in that role?

For those who are or have been in that boat, then this segment will be something that speaks closely to you. Part of us are curious to know, while another part prefers to move on. Apatow probes this aspect of curiosity by having George constantly push the boundary, harbouring thoughts of reconciliation, which is quite the selfish thing to do given the third party involvement. To be honest this segment, which takes place primarily over a single afternoon-night visit which stretched a few days, felt a little draggy at times, lightened only by Eric Bana in his Australian accent, which was quite the hoot as he hammed it up plenty.

It's amusing to see how Rogen became the butt of some jokes about his getting all slimmed down, and this of course will continue since he's taking on the role of The Green Hornet. Sandler and Rogen share some funny bromance moments to rival that between Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, and in true Apatow fashion, trading jokes that strongly deal with the male appendage. Non-Apatow fans will likely be turned off by such crassness, but Funny People is one done for the fans, and for its own camp to mull and ponder over.

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