Review: Funny People Defies Genre, Remains Funny

"Apatow could turn out to be one of our best storytellers ..."

 

Funny People is not a film that fits nicely into a particular genre. It doesn't really feel much like an Apatow film (he of Knocked Up and 40-Year-Old Virgin). And it's far better than the recent throwaway Sandler comedies (Click, You Don't Mess with the Zohan). If anything it comes off as the best snippets of past work from both gents; or maybe Jerry Seinfeld's Comedian meets About a Boy. But it does all work. Funny People is funny, moving, dramatic, and alternately hilarious. It's a bit like a stand-up dramedy.

Oddly enough, based upon this film, Apatow could turn out to be one of our best storytellers. He seems to really like his characters, a rare feat in an era where explosions and sequels are rewarded. His pacing here is deft, stand-up comedy is used to break the dramatic tension and heighten our connection to the protagonists involved. The story isn't overly complicated -- Seth Rogen plays a struggling comic, Adam Sandler is an established comedian with a track record of silly films ... much like the current Adam Sandler. He faces a test in his life which is where he and Rogen's paths converge. Rogen's roommates include Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman. Schwartzman is the furthest along career-wise of the roommates; he's landed a role on the beautifully satirical "Yo, Teach!" -- a show that looks as though it would fit right into the WB's fall lineup. Aubrey Plaza must also be mentioned; her take on fellow struggling comedian Daisy is quite strong.

What I liked most about Funny People was the organic nature of the piece. Nothing was forced or foretold, none of the characters were heroes or villains. Instead we were presented with a group of people in different places in their lives, having differing motivations and abilities, with different levels of empathy and compassion. Apatow somehow tapped into the battles we all fight and mined the essential truths we all face on a daily basis.

What can I knock? The film relies on the stand-up to stay strong comically. And that's sort of cheating. It also varies widely in tone, going from testicle joke to tear-jerker moment within moments. I could see this being jarring for some in the audience.

Still, it's a film worth buying a ticket to. I've often thought Sandler was underrated on the "serious thespian" front, and Funny People gives him a chance to play a character with some real depth. Rogen and the gang are impressive too, and there really isn't a weak link to the film in terms of acting. This film will make you laugh, make you think -- heck, it might even make you cry. It's hard to ask for more than that for a few hours time and eight to 10 bucks. Enjoy this one when you get a chance, if only to make sure we get to see more out of this Apatow fella.

Grade: B