Judd Apatow, director, producer & scriptwriter. Starring: Adam Sandler (George), Seth Rogen (Ira), Jonathan Hill (Leo), Jason Schwartzman (Mark), Leslie Mann (Laura), Eric Bana (Clarke), Maude Apatow & Iris Apatow (Laura & Clarke’s daughters), Aubrey Plaza (Daisy)
When you put Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow together for a film called Funny People, scheduled for a mid-summer release, expectations are raised all across North America. After all, Sandler is a comedy icon—a veteran of Saturday Night Live and such hit movies as You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Canadian Seth Rogen has recently become a huge comic star in Knocked Up and Zack and Miri Make a Porno. And Judd Apatow’s hits as a producer and writer include Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Naturally, the film they’d worked on would be a big, loud, forgettable but very funny summertime hit.
Well, it might be a hit but Funny People is anything but loud and forgettable. Apatow has directed, produced and written a thoughtful and—dare I say it?—moving story about a comic who discovers that he’s dying of cancer. Playing the comedian, in a rounded and fully realized performance, is Adam Sandler. And taking on the role of second banana—a rising comic who admires Sandler’s “George”—is a severely thinned-down Rogen.
Judd Apatow has crafted a very strong first and second “act” of a film, moving effortlessly between comedy and high drama. Sandler is set up as a comic genius–not much of a stretch–who has developed a huge fan following after his roles as a super-hero and as a talking baby. But although everyone admires him, and he hardly lacks for female companionship, Sandler’s George realizes that “it’s lonely at the top.”
So he buys a friend, Rogen’s Ira, who is an aspiring comedian, and actually admires the man. Of course, Ira has a job writing comedy routines for George, but his real mission is to, quite literally, stay up with him, while he battles fear and depression every evening before falling asleep. Ira has a life of his own, sharing a rundown apartment with two comedian pals, Mark and Leo and a rivalry with Mark over a female comic, Daisy.
While the tensions in the various relationships—rivalry between the young friends, dealing with death in the case of George and, to some extent, Ira—is played out amid a satisfying round of stand-up comedy routines, Funny People works extremely well. Unfortunately, there is a “third” act: George goes into remission and with his health improved, he reverts to narcissism and self-absorption while courting Laura, the only woman he ever loved—who happens to be married with children now.
Despite the weaknesses in the latter part of the film, Funny People is that rarity, a mainstream comedy that is emotional and dramatic. Apatow, whose directing credits include the surprisingly intelligent comedies Knocked Up and The 40 year-old Virgin, Sandler and Rogen all deserve credit for starring in a tough high-concept film. With any luck, Funny People will draw big audiences, too.