This is a step forward for director Judd Apatow.Not a huge step.Not a leap.But a step that should be recognized, and acknowledged, for the maturity it shows, and the understanding it presents for there being more dimensions to people, life, and relationships than just weed, dicks, and sex.Those work, mind you, and feature in Funny People as well, just not to the extent as in recent Apatow films such as 40 Year Old virgin and Knocked Up.
This film works.Itís nowhere near perfect.You see things coming.It goes on a bit too long.Some scenes are a bit tortured.But still, it delivers.And in some places, it kills.But even though thereís lots of inside stuff, and clearly the 20 year plus friendship that Apatow and Adam Sandler share is one of trust, there wasnít a need to include raw material of then unknown Sandler making prank calls back in the Ď80ís.Or repetitive scenes that remind us of the role wealth plays in Hollywood, and elsewhere, we all know that the rich are different.Or even of the challenges inherent to integrating life with, well, life, as we are forced to endure with the final third of this film.
Sandler is about as good as he can be in this role.Heís tormented by his own demons, and then a major cancer diagnosis puts his life in perspective, and his values are reversed.Working Seth Rogen into his life as a personal assistant/joke writer helps to leaven things, and provides Rogen with a relatively serious role.Well, at least the most serious weíve seen of him, as heís trim, job conscious, sober, and seeking both mature relationships and gainful employment.
Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman play Rogenís roommates, each enjoying a share of Hollywood success, while reminding each other of how it tastes to be on the rise, the apple of someoneís eye, even if itís not much more than a flavor of the month.
Apatowís family literally rounds out the cast.His wife, Leslie Mann, plays Sandlerís former girlfriend, the one who got away.Their real life daughters play Mannís characterís daughters.Quite well, actually, though of course itís always good to have family in the business.
The back third of the film deals with the budding relationship that Sandler and Mann attempt to re-establish, and is the most mature part of the film.There are still moments within this hour block, and plenty of harsh language before the kids, which is both comic and pathetic at the same time.
Eric Bana is a great comic foil as Mannís husband.His explanation of Aussie rules football is not to be missed, and helps set up a subsequent scene, one of those you see coming far, far away.Wish it was better, as funny and painful as it is.
Funny People is hard to categorize, and thatís going to be a problem when it comes to audience, and awards.Itís got remarkable moments, but itís too damn funny to be a drama, and too dramatic at times, sustained times, to work as a straight comedy.Itís not a buddy movie, not a love story, not anything that leads to easy categorization.
All this is good, but itís also to remind you that genius can take many forms.And it can also be something difficult, and not easy to convey.This film may not be that genius work, but Apatow is showing that he has that potential, and we should continue to track his evolution as a filmmaker, and a writer, and a storyteller.That journey began here.