Contains the funniest blowjob joke I have ever heard but the downside is that there are two dozen more dick jokes increasingly unfunny. But who’s up for Adam Sandler in a dramatic role? This reviewer is one of the very few who is up for it anytime (he does excel when he’s put in the hands of a talented director), but Sandler’s role with Funny People happens to be an equally funny and dramatic role that will not likely, or at least entirely, alienate his fan base who won’t stand for Mr. Sandler-doing-DeNiro-type outings. In this role Sandler is rude and blunt, has a direct and raunchy way of talking about sex, and get this – talks in his normal voice for the most point except for the times his adult character deliberately does baby talk to amuse his family-based fans.
George Simmons (Sandler) does have fans around the globe. He is a huge movie star with a legacy of… baby talk and fart movies and one that is called “My Best Friend is a Robot.” He lives in a $20 million dollar house, approx. He has few close friends but endless acquaintances. He is suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer. The movie begins with this exploration of how a rich comedy superstar will deal with impending death.
As a billed comedy (although it’s more serio-comic), you would probably guess that the Simmons character will laugh in the face of death. Simmons meets amateur comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) whom he takes a strong liking to, soon hiring the protege to write jokes for him and to be his personal assistant. One of Simmons odd requests is to have Wright sit by his bed at night until he falls asleep.
It is essential to bring up now that this film is the work of Hollywood writer-director hotshot Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”) whom has become so popular that now he is often imitated. Look at “I Love You, Man” and “The Hangover,” two movies that have nothing to do with him and yet feel very Apatow-ish. With Apatow, you can count on rudely verbose guys who talk in scatological terms, yet feel very human in their spewing frat-boy ways.
And without batting an eye, he writes roles for Rogen where he plays schlub with lousy prospects to start out with until he gets a major unforeseen opportunity to knocks on his door. He is lousy with women, and his roommate (played by Jason Schwartzman, whose character is the star of a dumbbell sitcom called “Yo, Teach!”) gets laid all the time. Co-star Jonah Hill (“Superbad”) is the third roommate – there seems to be a competition to not be the biggest loser of the house.
Dependable in Apatow’s bag of goodies is lots of male genitalia jokes, one of them features Simmons in an on-stage performance delivering such an outrageously dirty ditty on size and lack thereof that you may find yourself gagging on your own laughter. “Funny People” has many such indulgent detours, but when it returns to its sincere core it is about the relationship between Simmons and Wright, with Wright coaching him on opening up to the people around him so he doesn’t have to die alone. The door also opens for many celebrity cameo appearances, like Ray Romano and Eminem.
Apatow has made a film with lots of good scenes that make you laugh and make you care at the same time, but by the time Simmons flies up to Northern California to see his ex-squeeze (Leslie Mann) who is now married to a hunky Aussie (Eric Bana), the visit feels like such an eternity that you feel like you’ve just watched two movies. At 146 minutes, this could be the longest comedy that I’ve seen since 1963’s “Irma La Douce” which had Jack Lemmon’s cop on the beat fall for Shirley MacLaine’s streetwalker which ran for 147 merciless minutes.
It is quite a sight seeing Sandler berate his assistant, for a moment his lowly assistant, with verbal cruelty. It’s a scene that proves Sandler should spend more time in drama, more “Punch Drunk Love” and “Reign Over Me” movies would definitely be cool with me. It’s the kind of scene that makes you think, Damn that’s Strong Stuff. But the enjoyment of it is offset by too much self-indulgence. Apatow’s latest funny business will probably work better when it hits on-demand cable which will allow you to watch the film in select portions at a time.
146 Minutes. Rated R.
CRUDE COMEDY / PATHOS / WEEKEND PARTY MOVIE
Film Cousins: “Spanglish” (2004); “Reign Over Me” (2007); “Knocked Up” (2007); “I Love You, Man” (2009).