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FUNNY PEOPLE (director/writer: Judd Apatow; cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski; editors: Brent White/Craig Alpert; music: Jason Schwartzman/Michael Andrews; cast: Adam Sandler (George Simmons), Seth Rogen (Ira Wright), Leslie Mann (Laura), Eric Bana (Clarke), Jonah Hill (Leo), Jason Schwartzman (Mark), Aubrey Plaza (Daisy), Robert Diggs a k a RZA (Chuck), Aziz Ansari (Randy), Iris and Maude Apatow (Ingrid and Mable), Torsten Voges (Dr. Lars), James Taylor (Himself), Eminem (Himself); Runtime: 146; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Judd Apatow/Clayton Townsend/Barry Mendel; Universal Pictures; 2009)
“More well-observed and mature pic than the usual foul-mouthed Apatow naughty man-boy films.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director-writer-producer Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”/”Knocked Up”) tries his hand at an adult themed Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News movie, both directed by James L. Brooks, and comes up a bit short with an uneven dark rom-com that’s overlong, poorly paced, filled with too many unfunny immature penis jokes, unfocused, lacking snap and is sitcom phony. It starts out really sharp by putting the narcissistic, self-absorbed and callow Adam Sandler’s seemingly real personality under the microscope, whereby he removes several of his masks, but it then turns sentimental and becomes moralistically trite and sitcom friendly as it tries to see if its protagonist can learn from his prior mistakes when faced with a tragedy that is overcome and now become a nice person. On the plus side, it’s a more well-observed and mature pic than the usual foul-mouthed Apatow naughty man-boy films and definitely a step up for the low-brow comic star Sandler.

The storyline concerns 40ish superstar comic George Simmons (Adam Sandler), star of idiotic but big hit movies ala Sandler (where he plays an adult in the body of a baby), who is told by his doctor that he has a rare form of terminal leukemia that may possibly be treated with Canadian experimental medicines. After learning of his disease a heavy-hearted George performs an unfunny bit at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, and is followed onstage by struggling stand-up comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) who makes light of George’s gloomy act and wins over the audience. The comics talk at the parking lot and Ira is hired to write jokes for the star, and views this as the big break he was waiting for and is willing to eat shit for this opportunity (like for the entire pic the star mocks the nobody for changing his last name from Weiner to Wright).

Ira has two roommates, an overweight nerdy and belligerent aspiring actor-writer, Leo (Jonah Hill), and the pompous ladies man Mark (Jason Schwartzman), the most successful of the three horny Jewish roommates who was just chosen to play the lead in a tepid high school sitcom. The funny bits with the roommates resonate as the authentic actions of struggling show-biz people, as it shows their rivalries, girl stealing and petty jealousies.

The twentysomething Ira, who unhappily works days at a deli counter, hangs out with the star in his luxurious mansion overlooking the Pacific Ocean that’s filled with goodies and becomes his flunky. Ira even acts like a Jewish mother to console his anxiety attacks. George for the first time looks within to face up to the emptiness of his career driven, loveless and hedonistic Los Angeles life, and keeps his flunky around as a handy foil so he won’t be alone in his time of need.

Things were smooth sailing up to this point, but when the Swedish doctor informs George that the experimental drugs are working and that he’s not dying the comedian suddenly decides he must change his life and stops socializing with his pseudo show-biz friends. He instead calls his ex-girlfriend, the once aspiring actress Laura (Leslie Mann, the real-life Mrs. Apatow), whom he cheated on 12 years earlier and who now lives comfortably in a suburban home in Marin County with a volatile skirt-chasing Australian jock-type of traveling businessman husband named Clarke (Eric Bana) and two cutie pie young daughters (played by Apatow’s own kids, Maude and Iris).

For the next hour or so the film drags its feet in the San Francisco reunion of the former lovers in her house, as it loses its momentum, its feel of being in dangerous territory and no longer is funny as it shoots for tears. Its serious moments make for sloppy melodrama, as it switches its focus from a dying selfish jerk star to the undeveloped family of Laura and their marital problems that George hopes to exploit for his benefit. It seems odd that a film loaded down with dick jokes still lacks the balls to say something that isn’t superficial and lays on us an unwarranted banal Hollywood happy ending, so all the flawed and unpleasant characters somehow get a chance to look better than they deserve. It’s a film that squanders opportunities to move into fresh territory because the filmmaker refuses or doesn’t have the guts to take risks–he seems too contented with his life to feel what the geeks he is trying to convey feel about life.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”