FUNNY PEOPLE (Dir. Judd Apatow, 2009)
This movie is further proof of my theory that Judd Apatow wants to be a scatological James L. Brooks. Despite his raunchy bad boy comedy pedigree, Apatow seems, to me, to be emulating the oeuvre of the writer/director/producer famous for classic TV comedy staples like Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi (not to mention extensive work on The Simpsons) and films such as BROADCAST NEWS and AS GOOD AS IT GETS. In other words Apatow wants to make his own TERMS OF ENDEARMENT with dick jokes.
Inching closer to that goal is FUNNY PEOPLE, Apatow's 3rd film as director, which may look from the marketing to be a comedy that takes dramatic turns but it is really a drama sprinkled with a lot of comic asides. Adam Sandler, Apatow's former '80's room-mate, plays a famous comedian named George Simmons who has made a lot of Adam Sandler-like stupid movies with names like "Mer-man" and "Re-do". He lives alone in a huge mansion by the beach decorated with posters from his films and his looming loneliness. A young comic, the increasingly skinny Seth Rogen, goes quickly from a brush with celebrity moment with his idol Sandler to being his assistant and joke writer. You could be forgiven for thinking this is just another crude yet tender bromance (brom-com?) in the vein of SUPERBAD or I LOVE YOU, MAN.
A James L. Brookian factor in this is that Sandler is diagnosed with a potentially fatal blood disorder. Rogen is the only one he's told and the tears start flowing (onscreen that is) when the comic upstart implores his mentor to tell the world of his sickness. There's also the matter of, as Sandler says onstage: "There is always the one girl out there that got away...the one that got away. Guys have that and serial killers have that." That comes in the form of former flame (Apatow's wife Leslie Mann) that our ill protagonist obviously still pines for. She's married (Eric Bana plays her amusing Australian husband) with children (Apatow and Mann's daughters Iris and Maude) but she still holds a candle for Sandler. The film then goes from the more interesting world of stand-up comedy, to a less interesting near farce in a Marin County suburban home-set, and in the process, loses its ground.
There are many laughs and genuinely funny people (including Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, Aziz Ansari, and cameos from just about every working comedian in LA) in FUNNY PEOPLE but at 2 hours 26 minutes its way too long with a dragging 3rd act. That's another reason it's not a comedy; the unwritten rule that comedies should be around 90 minutes. As such, I could've done with more of the backstabbing egos backstage at comedy clubs crux than the 'will they/won't they get back together' relationship rigmarole overall.
There's also that long running complaint with comedies about all the best jokes being in the trailers and commercials and that's all too true here. The drama is what's left, and there's a lot of it so take note. Still, I bet it'll be an appealing DVD down the road with an unrated cut, tons of outtakes, extended scenes that are funnier that what's in the movie, and a crowded cut loose commentary like all Apatow productions have. So even as a mixed bag of a dramedy (or whatever you want to call it) Apatow still makes with the yuk yuks - I just hope next time he gives us more laughs and less pathos.