Funny People (with spoilers. Like the whole movie. I talk about the whole movie.)

The most awkward cast photo of all time.

Why do half these people have "badass" face and the other half just want to leave?

Funny People succeeds in being funny yet at the same time, it’s an overstuffed film and tonally inconsistent. But, since it’s funny, very funny in fact, it still wins.

Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, who is just like Adam Sandler. He used to be a really funny comedian everyone liked, and then he made a bunch of shit films which made him insanely rich. Considering director Judd Apatow is a very close friend of Sandler’s, I’m curious how the first pitch went down. (“You know how all your movies suck and thinking about them makes you feel dead inside? Well, imagine if you actually were dying! MONEY PLEASE!”) This is a cutting critique of Adam Sandler. Sure, the trappings of fame get little jabs here and there, but mostly it’s just slam after slam against the type of comedy Adam Sandler has been tossing out for years, some of which Apatow even had a hand in.

I was reminded of two things while watching this film: Apatow’s short lived college comedy show Undeclared and JCVD, Jean Claude Van Damme’s meta art house film. Adam Sandler made an appearance on Undeclared as himself, with an assistant he constantly berated, much like in Funny People. Sandler played himself as weary of fame and being famous, and he also takes time to have sex with a girl who has a boyfriend, echoed in a great scene in FP. If you’re gonna steal, steal from the best, especially if the best is yourself. I was also reminded of JCVD by Funny People‘s numerous moments where characters reference the general terribleness of George Simmon’s films, with title’s like “My Friend The Robot” and “Merman”. I kept thinking how much money they could have saved by just throwing up clips from Little Nicky and Click. Unlike JCVD, Sandler never rises into the ceiling and apologizes for all his bad movies.

The crutch of the film is based around Simmon’s finding out he is dying of a rare form of leukemia, looking around at himself and realizing he is all alone. Just him, his riches and random sex with starfuckers. Which, as you already know, is the worst. Simmon’s makes a phone call to the one that got away, Laura(Leslie Mann), but can’t bring himself to tell her that he’s dying.  Instead, he heads to the Improv where he does a dark, joke free set. “You won’t have me forever, you know? Who will make you laugh?” Simmon’s is followed by the intimidated and unsure Ira Wright(Seth Rogen), who manages to get some laughs out of the audience by taking some pointed zingers at George. This actually gets Ira a job working for George as a joke writer/assistant.

So, that’s your setup. George is dying, Ira is an up and coming comedian who might just have his big break here. Then(spoiler if you haven’t seen any commercials) George finds out that he isn’t dying. The medicine worked! Hurray! So he has a party with a bunch of famous friends who all wish him well. Then Eminem shows up(seriously) and says, “What’s the point? What are you living for?” George considers what Marshall says, and realizes that he still loves Laura.

I guess you could say I just have this once chance, Em. What, heard that one before?

"I guess you could say I just have this once chance, Em. What, heard that one before?"

The film earned my admiration by not making George Simmons a nice guy after his new lease on life. He’s selfish, even when it appears he is trying to make things better between himself and Laura. But through all of Funny People I was trying to figure out what this all means to Adam Sandler. This is his film. It is all about him. Sure, there are funny bits and subplots surrounding Ira and his friends, but they aren’t the engine. Is this Sandler reevaluating his life? Like Van Damme in JCVD and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler, Sandler has his redemptive moment, but unlike those two films it is small and simple, Simmons writing some jokes for Ira as the credits roll. It feels a little like a feint. Sandler doesn’t need to make any apologies like Van Damme and Rourke, yet that appears to be what this film is doing. Scene after scene of Sandler jamming with Jon Brion, shooting the shit with Paul Reiser and Norm Macdonald, having a heart to heart with his parents, Sandler’s career looms too large over these scenes for them not mean something beyond being funny and/or touching in a movie. The only way to tell is to see what Sandler’s next projects are. If there is a noticeable lack of magical remote controls and silly voices then perhaps this film did mean something. Or not, and Sandler was just happy to hang out with his old friend Judd.

Funny People ends in a way similar to Apatow’s previous films, with the lead characters taking their first steps in their new lives, hopefully to become fuller, better people. Unlike Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, there isn’t a feeling of joyous discovery and adventure(“We just had sex!” “We had a baby!”), instead George Simmons is trying to become a good person again. This a great note to end on, but it lacks the audience empathy of the other films. As I said, I admire making the lead so loathsome and self destructive, yet find it hard to take the leap to genuinely care. He is fully ensconced in his celebrity world, and while he might have trouble living with it, he certainly can’t live without it. Thus the problem inherent in this entire enterprise, making a rich, successful person’s problems relate-able.

But what did I like, you ask? Well, Funny People does brim over with plenty of jokes, funny setups, sharp one liners and a generally jovial vibe. I’ve read some reviews that lament how long the film takes to get to Simmons being cured of his disease, a plot point the trailers were happy to include. I call bullshit. So many films have just about everything spoiled in the trailers. The first half of Funny People does deal with looming death, but it isn’t a dark slog. I guess if the first half bored you and you wanted to go home, then it really wouldn’t matter when exactly he gets better.

I recommend Funny People because it made me laugh. It didn’t make me question my existence and the choices I made, but it did make me laugh, which was the whole point to begin with.

When youre as rich as Adam Sandler, you dont dress up for anyone. Even your own movie premiere.

When you're as rich as Adam Sandler, you don't dress up for anyone. Even your own movie premiere.

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