Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Funny People

After creating two very good comedies with a bit of heart and building a movie empire as a producer, Judd Apatow returned last year with his third film, which has quite a bit more focus on sentiment rather than laughs. I saw a lot of people skeptical of his ability to pull this off, although I would guess most of them haven't seen Freaks and Geeks. I had no issue with the idea of Funny People, and it's successful in a lot of ways. The fact that it's not a great movie isn't because Apatow shouldn't try to be serious, it's just that a large chunk of the movie ends up being pretty unwatchable.

It's an odd thing, really. The movie's dangerously long for what could still be called a comedy, approaching two and a half hours. But Adam Sandler gives a surprisingly good performance as an actor and comedian who finds out that he has a very dangerous disease, and tries to get back to his stand up roots. Seth Rogen is his typical likable self, playing a much less confident version of himself who's struggling to make ends meet and gets hired by Sandler to be his assistant and help write jokes. Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman are both very good as his roommates who he must occasionally butt heads with because this movie is more dramatic. For reasons I'll get into in a moment, the movie needs a love interest for Rogen, and Aubrey Plaza does her usual sarcastic thing pretty well in that position. It was funny seeing the origins of Aziz Ansari's Raaaaaaaandy character, and tons of people make cameos as themselves, either in casual interactions with Sandler's character or in brief snippets from his fake filmography.

For the most part, the movie manages a good balance between the humor and the drama, with its great cast doing the typical improv-heavy vulgar conversation thing in one scene and seriously considering mortality in the next. There might be a few too many sad musical montages, but it never really goes over the top trying to sell Sandler's plight, maybe because his slightly self-destructive tendencies make him feel like a real person rather than just a sad sack trying to manipulate your emotions. So it's really disappointing when the movie hits the breaks on what it's been doing to spend like forty minutes wasting our time with a romance subplot. Leslie Mann and Eric Bana are both pretty good, likable actors, and they do a fine job in this movie. It's just that the part that they're in really doesn't belong with the rest. Everything else pretty much grinds to a halt as Sandler reconnects with Mann as the one that got away, as Apatow proudly presents his wife and daughters again, and then her husband played by Bana shows up to create a whole lot of awkward and difficult to watch tension. These scenes just keep going and going until the breaking point, while I was desperately waiting for them to get back to the real movie.

Eventually they do, once the scripts reaches its Time to Wrap Things Up phase with some predictable character development and resolution, although even being a bit rote as it was it was still better than what just came before. People reconcile and part ways as necessary, and everything ends just about the way it should. It's really too bad the movie went on that whole tangent, because apart from that I really liked it for the most part. As it stands, it's the least of Apatow's three films, though still worth seeing if you like the cast enough. I don't mind if he still wants to be sentimental last time, as long as he makes sure the script is a lot tighter than this.

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