A review of “Funny People” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for language, crude humor and some sexuality

Run Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

 

 

          Judd Apatow is on a Hollywood roll with no end in sight. “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” were smash hits and Apatow and his motley crew of players are hotter than hot.

But this one’s a departure from Apatow’s stylistic raunch-fests; a deeper, darker piece that may not play to his comic-minded fan base.     Focused on one man’s journey through the psychological perils of show-biz “Funny” spins a yarn of mega-famous comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) who’s at the top of his game when he is diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia.

          A wake-up call to be sure and George is clueless about where to turn next. He begins by turning back to his roots and doing small sets at L.A.’s Improv Club, giving a sober look-see to the young talent coming up the ranks. One of those fledgling funnymen is Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) who George taps to write some jokes for his next big gig.

          One gag leads to another and Ira finds himself as George’s personal assistant; working material, fetching drinks and talking his boss to sleep in his cavernous mega-mansion. Cars, girls, private jets and cash; it’s a heady but lonely existence.

          Wanting to right the wrongs of his past George requests audience with snubbed friends and family members and re-connects with ex-love Laura (Apatow real-life wife Leslie Mann) who admits she never got over the hurt of their break-up nor over the man himself.

          Things get messy – potential separations, conflicting diagnoses and the like. Pacing is fractured; long-winded stretches punctuated with short brilliant bits and poignant darts that sometimes miss target and just as often hit the bulls-eye.

          Sandler gives a fine, weighty performance as the somber comic who has unconsciously let fame eat away at his inner human but Rogen is the prize; sweet, sensitive and indisputably authentic. The funniest moments belong to cameos and smaller parts by Eminem, Ray Romano, Torsten Voges as lanky Swedish cancer specialist Dr. Lars and Eric Bana as Laura’s philandering hubby.

          Apatow’s gross-out and sometimes cruel humor is up front and center, even in your face – endless references to unspeakable body parts, awkward mocking, etc. – but watered down with genuine feeling about the fleeting nature of life and love. Flawed, yes; but a newer, more mature chapter in the Apatow book and I like what I see.