Judd Apatow is back for his third film in the director's chair; following 2005's The 40-Year-Old Virgin and 2007's Knocked Up. However, Apatow has produced and written many comedies in the past few years; does Funny People bring anything new to his film repertoire, or has the Apatow film formula finally run dry?
Funny People centers around three characters: legendary actor and comedian, George Simmons (Adam Sandler), deli worker and emerging stand-up comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), and to an extent, George's ex, Laura (Leslie Mann). But thankfully the film doesn't throw all three stories at you at once, instead carefully utilizing its two and a half hour run-time for a finely organized, and enjoyable to watch film.
The first third of the film focuses on the relationship between George Simmons, a famous comedian who's life has taken a turn for the worst after being diagnosed with a form of leukemia, and Ira Wright, a comedian who just can't find the success that his two roommates (Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill) have found. After a rough night of stand-up, George Simmons contacts Ira to write some jokes for him, eventually forming a close relationship together, despite their different situations.
The later parts of the film introduce the character of Laura, George's one time lover, who has since moved on and started a family with her new husband, Clarke (Eric Bana). But much like George, she longs for what once was and tries to rekindle her past relationship. As said, the movie is quite long for a "comedy", clocking in at over two and a half hours, so there's quite a bit to take in and not a lot that I need to explain. But really what this comes down to is that the film isn't necessarily a comedy, as much as it is a drama about comedians, but with an overall real feeling.
What made Funny People surprisingly enjoyable for me was the cast. Personally, I had enough of both Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen based on their most recent work; but somehow, somewhere, they were hiding these completely different actors inside of them, playing roles unlike anything they've done before. I was really surprised by their performances, because seeing them interact was really fun and interesting, and not the boring chore it has been.
But that's not to say the supporting cast didn't also make the film great. While seldom seen, Jason Schwartzman's and Jonah Hill's performance were pretty amusing, more so Schwartzman, who played the hot shot friend, instead of the shy, quiet guy he usually plays. Eric Bana's character was also pretty funny, and I especially liked hearing him in his native Australian voice for once. However, I felt Leslie Mann's performance to be a little phoned in, and at the end of it all it seems like she only got the role because she's Apatow's wife... Also, there's a ton of cameo roles in the film from the likes of Norm MacDonald, Dave Attell, Andy Dick, Ray Romano, Eminem, and many others; which was neat to see.
In terms of cinematography, the film doesn't really offer anything new, but who's looking at a comedy for special effects? But what I personally enjoyed was all the extras touches included in the film, like the usage of old home-footage of Sandler as if it were old videos of George Simmons, the filming and posters scattered throughout the movie of fake Simmons films, as well as footage of Schwartzman's character's sitcom, Yo Teach!. It makes the already real feeling characters feel that much more real, and I appreciated the inclusion of such elements.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Funny People, and despite its length, thoroughly enjoyed it. If you go into this expecting a usual Adam Sandler or Judd Apatow produced film, you are going to be shocked at what you're getting into. While there are jokes to be had, this isn't a film for the usual stupid-man's humor, instead Funny People takes a much different approach to the comedy film, instead focusing on sadness and drama. Personally, I found the change to be more than welcome and I greatly enjoyed the film for what it was, a look at how real people react in real situations, regardless of their professions. As long as you can watch the film with that in mind, I'm sure you'll enjoy it, as it's certainly a step in the right direction.
Overall Score: 8.9/10