Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Review: Funny People (2009)

Funny People
145 minutes
Rated R

by Scott Mendelson

Spoilers contained within...

The critical consensus on Funny People (a strong first 90 minutes followed by an overlong, labored, drawn-out 40 minute finale) is half right. Alas, the entire film is an overlong, drawn-out, and completely undisciplined affair. The funniest thing about the movie is the irony contained within - despite being an allegedly more mature and serious motion picture than the stereotypical Judd Apatow product, it is actually far less honest and realistic about human behavior and relationships than either Knocked Up or The Forty-Year-Old Virgin. That in itself wouldn't be a big problem if the film were funny. But it's not. It's really not all that amusing. The stand-up comedy routines are generally not terribly funny. The female characters (especially Aubrey Plaza) are basically prizes to be won. We get absolutely no sense of what it's like to make your living trying to make people laugh in small-time dinky clubs, no sense of the nervousness, self-doubt, and excitement of doing live stand-up. As far as comedy writing, we get a more realistic picture of what it's like to write comedy for a living on 30 Rock. That show may be the ultimate reality check, as it shows that sketch comedy writers are every bit as uncool as anyone else.

We get no sense of why Adam Sandler's George Timmons chose to turn his back on humanity in general. Yes, he had issues with his father, but the movie states many times that all stand-up comedians are inherently exorcising demons and dealing with self-loathing. That's probably somewhat true, but then what separates the loners like Timmons from people like Judd Apatow or Ray Ramano, the ones who made their fortune in comedy but still were able to raise a family? The movie never deals with this obvious contradiction. The film eventually turns into a variation on The Family Man ('oh, he's rich and powerful beyond his dreams, but he really just wants a wife and kids'), before doubling back at the last minute to try to appear more profound than that.

Speaking of that justifiably maligned final act, once again this 'more serious' picture contains a less realistic view of family life than Knocked Up. Unlike the earlier picture, the kids are always well-behaved, they are always polite and funny, and they never give their parents any grief. It's almost as if Apatow couldn't bear to cast his two daughters as anything other than angels. And on what planet would two young children not be seriously disturbed/weirded out over their mom more or less flaunting her love for another guy, a famous stranger that they've never met no less? This rubbed me the same way as the climax of Kill Bill, where Uma Thurman's daughter didn't seem to mind a strange woman coming into her house, killing her father, and then telling her that she was her mother and whisking her away to places unknown.

Yes the film is unbearably long, but only because it is often unbearably dull and uninsightful. Oddly enough, the only mediocre performance comes from Leslie Mann, but that may come from a script that has her make major life decisions on a dime and never judges her for that (ie - no one could sell what she has to sell). Seth Rogen is shockingly good, and Sandler doesn't wink his way out of playing a rather loutish cad. And Eric Bana, a famous funny man in his native Australia, has a ball with his first comic role in America. But the core story feels false, many of the supporting characters are wasted, and the telling of that story is dragged out beyond logic. Come what may, Funny People is Judd Apatow's Elizabethtown. Like that infamous miss, this often feels like someone else 'doing Apatow', and the subject matter is arguably so close to the vest that perhaps objectivity was impossible. Despite grand intentions and noble ideals, the film just doesn't work in any conceivable way. It's a tragic failure from a truly gifted comic mind.

Grade: C-


R.L. Shaffer said...

Couldn't disagree with you more, Scott :)

Scott Mendelson said...

Then you're welcome.

free movie said...

Maybe Sandler needs to take a break from "jest-comedies" and try the romantic-comedies for a while. I'm sure that young Seth Rogen and others will fill the empty spot successfully!


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