I can’t say I’m not a fan of Adam Sandler. He’s one of the best comedians of the 90s. Even if you don’t want to admit it, even if you don’t think he’s funny. He opened a lot of doors for a lot of people over the years, and looking back on it you have to acknowledge his influence. As a lover of comedy, I have seen how he’s changed the playing field for up and comers with alternative acts. But the problem with any comedian is what happens when they meet with success. Adam Sandler has been VERY successful, and so as time has gone on, it seems like he’s put less and less out on the line for the sake of comedy. From Billy Madison to Bedtime Stories, there’s been a definite drop in what he’s been willing to do to evoke some laughs from us. But with his latest film, Funny People, he has gone out on a limb the way young comedians can only dream of. He has laid himself bare, and has made what could accurately be described as a parody of his entire career. But the payoff is so worth it, because Funny People might just be the best Sandler performance I’ve ever seen, as well as one of the best comedies in recent memory.
He plays George Simmons, a character that is about half Sandler, half Charles Foster Kane. He’s a famous comedian that has everything but friends and companionship, and he has recently been diagnosed with a horrible blood disease. Desperate to get out and forget about the depressing diagnosis, he goes and watches his old stand-up performances and realizes that maybe his first love, stand-up comedy, will get his mind off his troubles. His first night out, he bombs horribly, but he meets up after the show with the person who went on after him, named Ira Wright. The two connect as fellow comedians, and George asks the aspiring comic to work for him to help him write jokes. Stunned, Ira accepts, and off they go on an odyssey that changes the both of their lives forever. Simmons takes Ira through his beautiful and high-class lifestyle, showing him how empty it all is without anyone to share it with, and Ira reminds him of the joys of his youth. Combine that with plenty of dick jokes, and you have a real journey through the life of a funny, funny man.
If you like stand-up comedy, this is kind of a cinematic love letter to it. You get to see every aspect of it. From the free gigs at the Improv, to the $300,000 private gigs at corporate functions, it shows it all. The good comics, the shitty comics, and the cheap “involve the audience for extra laughs” comics all find their niche here. It also goes into the crafting of jokes, finding out what’s funny and what just plain isn’t. If you thought the whole industry was just about making goofy noises and witty repartee, go watch this film and check out how often they’re trying out new material. It’s always an uphill battle, and I have a new-found respect for comedians now after watching it.
Pretty much a re-creation of The Great Gatsby with comedians instead of New England aristocracy, Funny People gets huge points from me by just being so brave. George Simmons is such a ballsy character to portray, especially when it’s played by the man they’re lampooning. Adam Sandler gives his best performance, even better than Barry Egan from Punch-Drunk Love, by pouring his heart into a man that’s a little too much like him dealing with death and heartache. It’s phenomenal. I have no more words for Sandler. He’s simply brilliant. Mazeltov!
The supporting cast also kicks ass. Seth Rogen goes back to being a pussycat for his fourth film on Cinematronica (see Observe and Report, Monsters Vs. Aliens, and Pineapple Express). He might just be my favorite comic actor of the decade. I know that should go to Will Ferrell, but damn it! Seth just hits me in all the right spots. His role as Ira Wright totally demolishes his archetype as Nick from The Great Gatsby. He’s a major improvement because of the introduction of his own interesting dilemmas. Not to mention the addition of his friends, which are played by Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman, who are hilarious in their own right. With support like Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, and even the RZA, this movie is bolstered to the brim with talent.
And it has to be said that, out of only three Apatow movies, this is the best one by far. And I loved Knocked Up and The 40 Year-Old Virgin! This is his most well-done flick. It’s not just about the dick jokes. He really has a story to go with, and he runs it to its full course. This might annoy some Apatow fans, unfortunately, because the film is about two and a half hours. Now, if you’ve read this site before, you know that I have ZERO problems with long movies, but from the plebian responses I get from most people on the street, anything over 90 minutes is just pushing it. I also know that most people don’t like too much drama in their comedy, so be prepared for that as well. It’s a movie with serious issues, including loneliness, regret, and the great gig in the sky. So if you want Superbad, go watch Superbad. This is something entirely different.
I loved Funny People. It’s not for everybody. It’s definitely a very personal vision thatnot everyone will be comfortable with, but there’s a lot to love here. I won’t guarantee you’ll love it, considering the problem people seem to have with the length, but I guarantee that it’s a good movie. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll piss your pants. It’s Judd Apatow’s best movie yet, it’s Sandler’s best movie yet, and therefore I give it 9 1/2 funny people out of 10. Go watch it now!
Tomorrow I take it to the streets for The Warriors! Until then!!!