I am not what anyone would call a fan of Judd Apatow. As a director he is able to get some really great, funny performances out of his cast -- a cast that he assembles using his great eye for untapped talent. But as a creator, he relies too heavily on his cast to write the jokes for him. His style is one of throwing things at the wall to see what sticks; trying dozens of takes in which his cast makes up lines on the fly and the decision as to what joke to include ends up being found in the editing room. While this leads to a lot of raw, unexpected bits of humor, it also leaves his films with half-developed characters and jokes that never build to larger, funnier punch lines later in the film. They are, for all intents and purposes, slightly better scripted improv films. And sadly, that style has spilled over into dozens of other productions and led to something of a movement all its own.
Which is why I am surprised that I'm so desperately in love with his latest film, and in my opinion his masterpiece, Funny People. While the methodology is the same, the direction of the film is not. Funny People is not a wacky story about zany characters put into very sexual situations -- it is a somewhat autobiographical film in which Apatow gathered his closest friends and family and set out to make a movie about the industry he has worked in for roughly 20 years. Starring Apatow's ex-roommate (Adam Sandler, back when they were both struggling artists), his wife (Leslie Mann), and his young protege (Seth Rogen), Funny People tells the story of George, a blockbuster superstar comedian (a very veiled autobiographical skew of Sandler) and Ira, the young upstart cutting his teeth in the world of stand-up.
All of Apatow's tricks are in full effect here, but being that the film is entirely about a clique of stand-up comedians, the banter plays as authentic and unrehearsed. It feels very real, with the off-the-cuff jokes and cutting juvenile remarks seeming to come from a real place rather than some fantasy land in which all the characters are naturally funny. The performances, all rooted in real people or industry archetypes, feel entirely from the heart either as loving portrayals of friends or as less affectionate scathing refutations of peers and contemporaries. The film is touching, hilarious, and truly one of the very best films of the year.
How did it all come together? You can find out on this exhaustive two-disc Blu-ray filled with hours upon hours of special features. If it is in any way tangentially related to the film, you can find it here: two different gag reels, reams and reams of alternate takes of many of the film's big jokes, and a section of four documentaries that are an hour and a half by themselves. But what about all of George Simmons' movies? Yup. Episodes of Jason Schwartman's uber-crappy sitcom Yo Teach? How about five of them. There's even tons of old tapes and footage from Apatow's early days of living with Sandler (moments of which are included in the film.)
The only complaint I have about the disc is that the Unrated Extended Edition of the film didn't really include much more. Not that there really needed to be more; the film was already a meaty 146 minutes. Sadly, the extended edition only brings it up to 153 minutes, all of which are simply extended jokes and ramblings rather than new scenes. This version does have the same flow and momentum as the film, which is a good thing, but anyone hoping for MORE will find just a handful of new laughs instead of a richer, heartier film.
Funny People is available now from Universal Studios Home Entertainment.