Funny People

On the Aisle

By Tony Macklin

Funny People

Schlep and Schlock are together again. The former Los Angeles roomies, actor Adam Sandler and writer-director Judd Apatow, have teamed up to make “Funny People.”

“Funny People” is an odd mixture of humanity, vulgarity and soap opera. At its best, it is an engaging character study. At its worst, it is a crass, self-indulgent home movie.

In “Funny People” we have to wade through an ocean full of penis jokes like humorless octopi. If Apatow had cut the majority of the penis jokes, the movie, which is 146 minutes in length would be less than two hours. If Apatow also had cut ten minutes from the home movies of his family, it would be about right.

But Apatow plays the Hollywood game: “My kids are cuter than your kids.” He uses his own kids, Maude and Iris, to play the children of George Simmons’ (Sandler) former girlfriend. And guess who plays Laura, George’s former flame? Apatow casts Leslie Mann, his wife, and he and she nearly turn the last 20 minutes into “Spanglish.” It’s a bad move. The scenes between Mann and Sandler are the dullest in the movie

Fortunately Eric Bana, who portrays Laura’s husband, adds what little real energy the last portion of the movie has.

“Funny People” is the story of comedian and movie star George Simmons, who is diagnosed with a rare blood disease that is fatal 92 percent of the time. As he struggles to cope with his disease, he meets an unsuccessful wannabe comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen). George hires Ira to write comedy for him and to be his only confidant.

The close brush with death makes George see life differently, but fate intervenes positively halfway through. Then a doctor tells him, “get back to your life.” At this point the movie abruptly grinds into another gear. What had potential to be a first-rate film about identity and communication becomes second-rate.

Sandler doesn’t have a lot of range, but he can act. He was excellent in “Punch-Drunk Love.” Apatow knows his actor-friend. There is a wonderful shot of George holding onto the end of an indoor swimming pool in which Sandler is an image of powerful anguish. He’s the least effective when he’s angry, but he’s usually convincing. When George is at his most human, Sandler is at his best.

The chemistry in “Funny People” doesn’t come between Sandler and Mann, but between Sandler and Rogen. Rogen, playing the vulgar but decent Ira, grounds the movie. He and Sandler create a believable relationship.

Apatow is able to create some memorable scenes. One of the best is in a restaurant when Eminem verbally attacks Ray Romano. It is a sly play on both their images.

Apatow also uses a lot of actual musicians and comedians to give his movie authenticity. Among them are James Taylor, Sarah Silverman and the atrocious Andy Dick.

When Sandler and Rogen are doing their thing, “Funny People” is in good form. But, a little advice for Apatow: Judd, keep your family at home. And put your vast collection of comic dildos into a drawer somewhere. Their batteries are dead. It’s Adam and Seth who are alive.

Categories: Entertainment