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Saturday, August 1, 2009

FUNNY PEOPLE

By D.E.Levine

Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow
Producers: Judd Apatow, Clayton Townsend and Barry Mendel
Executive Producers: Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jack Giarraputo
Co-producers: Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien
Cast: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plazxa, RZA, Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Torsten Voges, Allan Wasserman
Music: Jason Schwartzman and Michael Andrews
Running Time: 146 Minutes
Country of Origin: United States
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Drama

Funny People is a look at the professional culture of comedians, focusing on the world of Los Angeles standup comics and showing a series of narrow, warped and stunted lives. It focuses on how comedians think, work, act and talk and the language is pretty offensive, centering basically on genitalia.

This is not your usual Adam Sandler movie of madcap humor. Instead of the usual raunchy antics seen in Apatow's previous two films, "The 40-Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," in this film Apatow goes half-serious and takes big risks, concentrating on the characters and their lives instead of telling a tightly structured story. The movie, though rated as a comedy, is at heart, serious.

Opening with some home made videos that Apatow made of his former roommate, Sandler, when they were both aspiring unknowns, the videos honor and poke fun at the star's achievements.

Centering around Sandler's performance as George Simmons, a fictional comic superstar who learns he has a rare and possibly fatal blood disease, Simmons reveals callowness and ambivalent self-regard. He's arrogant and self-absorbed and Apatow handles the questions of the disease beautifully, underplaying it unsentimentally.

Living in a luxurious mansion above the Pacific Ocean, enjoying the perks of stardom like limousines, private jets and his pick of women but also confessing that the excitement has gone out of his career and the fame is isolating - while he has loads of hanger-ons and people with whom he can hang out, he has no real friends. Sandler captures the ugliness and the contradictions of celebrity beautifully. He understands the empty camaraderie existing between fellow celebrities and the demands of public life, as well as the isolation celebrity brings.

Focusing on the competitiveness of three roommates, each a comic at a different point in his career, the film focuses on mostly young, Jewish, physically differing guys who are trying to make a living as comics. Of the three roommates, Mark is a star of a bad but popular TV comedy, Leo is a belligerent standup comic and writer and Ira is an aspiring standup comic.

When Simmons asks Ira to write some material for him, and invites Ira into his life to share his perks, Ira's life and career take some major turns. Besides its behind the scenes look at comedy club culture, the sensitivities and jealousies of comics, their interactions with each other and how they test each other, the language is offensive. There are so many references to genitalia that it's difficult to believe people speak this way during normal conversations or intense bull sessions when seeking to produce new material.

Paul Reiser, Sarah Silverman, Ray Romano and Eminen are among some of the famous celebrities that make unexpected surprise cameos when Simmons celebrates at the Palms in Las Vegas after receiving some unexpected positive medical news.

However, the film digresses from the comedy club scene after about 80 minutes and moves to Marin Country where Simmons, in San Francisco for a shared gig with Ira, picks up with his old girlfriend Laura, a former starlet who's now married to an Australian and has two daughters. Although Laura seems shallow and superficial, Simmons loves her if for no other reason than she loved him before he became famous and was an unknown nobody.

The film loses focus here as it switches from the comedy scene to Laura's annoying marital problems. Laura isn't believable with her whining and disappointment over a thwarted career although she has a gorgeous husband, two adorable daughters and lives in a palatial home. She seems superficial and one has to wonder why Simmons idolizes her as he does.

In the end, while some people will be disappointed that the film does not play as a usual Sandler or Apatow comedy, Sandler achieves a fine depiction of both arrogance and self-derision, combining his gruff, offhand manner with comic alertness. Rogen is a subtle but effective foil as a frustrated performer who never knows whether his boss is going to praise or punish him.

Apatow allows his characters to develop like real people and allows his stories to find their way to their own truths.