Rating: 2 / 5 stars
“Heard a joke once. Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says ‘Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.’ Man bursts into tears. Says ‘But, doctor… I am Pagliacci.’ Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains. Fade to black.”
Rorschach – Watchmen
Judd Apatow’s third film Funny People has an incredible premise: a tale of a comedian who has a near-death experience with a strain of Leukaemia. George Simmons (Sandler) is in his forties and has lived the life of an A-list comedian. He has the money, the cars and gets the girls. But, after years at the top and the revelation of his disease, he realises what he lacks is friends, family and love. Ok, so this is a commentary on the pitfalls of Fame. Got it?
Ira Wright (Rogen) is the good guy. He works a dead-end job to get by. He is a struggling part-time comedian. He has a hard time with women – the good guys never come off on top – but with his awkward charm and unflailing benevolence, things work out for the good guy when his mentor Simmons takes him under his wing and gives him the boost he needs to get on the winning track. Super, a feel-good movie. Still following?
Leslie Mann plays Laura, George’s childhood sweetheart. Laura is married to Clarke (Bana) after leaving George because of his celebrity status and inability to resist the temptations of cheating. Laura and Clarke are happily married with kids when George decides he wants his love back, temporarily tearing apart a family in the process and using his illness for the wrong reasons. The love between Laura and George is definitely still there, but it’s time to grow up. A hopeless-romance movie? Hold on…
Judd Apatow’s bold attempt at trying to throw all of these themes together is a big ask. These are all winning movies – Individually. To tackle the idea of show business you need to hit on realism to win over your audience. To embrace a winning feel-good film you need character depth and development, absolute immersion into the hero. A hopeless-romance movie always needs an epic tale of ups and downs, a rocky road for us to follow.
Funny People decides not to opt for the tried and tested and fails.
Judd Apatow has become lazy. Imagine Funny People as a dart-board. Instead of throwing three darts trying to hit bulls-eye, Apatow has decided his chances are better with much more: First of all throwing a whole host of great comedians (Sandler, Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman and Eric Bana). Then, just to really try capturing an audience, Apatow throws in some dark undertones of failed love, mortality, fame and fortune.
But wait, we need a smattering of penis jokes, swearing and crass one-liners to keep the Rogen-Apatow generation happy.
The dart-board is already beginning to look full. So we get some more darts thrown at us: A whole host of cameo’s (Eminem, Ray Romano, Justin Long, RZA). Great. Now we begin to lose focus on the film. No longer is Apatow aiming to find the bulls-eye, he’s now just looking to expand the board to fit all this in 146 minutes. Now Apatow (and the cinema-goer) is left blind to where the target/moral of this film is. Lost? Confused? I was.
The comparison to Rorschach’s joke is easy on the first level. Pagliacci is depressed, not unlike Sandler, and is also seeking medical help, not unlike Sandler. However, the reason this joke was ringing true throughout my entire Funny People experience is that Rorschach’s punch line was the futility of being helpless. Apatow serves well as our doctor and Sandler takes the role of Pagliacci, although, our outcome now is rather different as they’ve both ended as the clown. My point? Rorschach is a crazy man who used the simplicity of the joke and got the laugh, got the roll on snare drum.
Apatow on the other hand fails, by missing the sheer simplicity of a good comedy and steering away from the tried and tested methods of a serious film he has hit nothing but wall. The bulls-eye is lost. The joke does not work anymore, no laugh, no roll on snare drum.
On the back of Todd Phillip’s The Hangover, Apatow needed something special to remain as the top man in comedy. Epic fail. The biggest shame is the manner in which he’s brought down a lot of class comedians with him, and the fact that his daughter Iris Apatow gave the most memorable performance of the whole bunch playing Laura’s daughter Ingrid.
Standout performance: Jonah Hill (for his standard role as a funny, fat guy)
This movie is now showing a Reading Cinemas in Queenstown.
This review has been written and rated by Christopher Clement-Walker of Reading Cinemas Queenstown.
Rated: R-16 (contains Offensive language, sexual material & other content that may offend)
Starring: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Sarah Silverman
Running time: 146 minutes