01 August 2009
First Impressions: Funny People
I'm considering Apatow 3 for 3 as a director. He's batting 1.000 right now, and I love it. Needless to say, these impressions will be dominated by comparison and contrast to his earlier work, for good and ill, as I also inevitably compared the earlier Bruno to Borat. Let's dig in to my Spoiler-rific impressions.
This movie is ridiculously long, but doesn't feel so until around the two-hour mark. Then it goes on for another twenty minutes. There are so many stories and characters to shift and wrap-up that I think you'd feel pretty cheated if it was a 90-minute throw-away comedy movie. Indeed there are a few streaks in this thing to make it more like an actual, meaningful movie instead of a flash-in-the pan goof-off like most of Adam Sandler's career, which they go on to heavily parody throughout.
Sandler, after all, has to be the highlight of this flick. I got a really weird feeling watching him, seemingly acting so non-Sandler like, yet clearly as a character inspired from his real-life persona. I think I tracked it down as Sandler not playing a "Sandler" type role (ie, goofball, angry dude, hyper-reality), but just being himself. Which is very honest in showing the depth of comedians behind their jokes. It's kind of surreal, really, to see when Sandler, as George Simmons, "turns-off" the outrageous parts of his comedy, because he is a real human. This is heavy contrast to something like "Happy Gilmore" (1996), for instance, where he is constantly acting out. There's a great scene early on, dealing with Simmons' pressure to be funny immediately after being diagnosed with a rare form of Leukemia, meeting some fans outside of the doctor's office. They expect him to be funny all the time, which Simmons is trying to do, but he ends up realising the form of shallowness this embodies. I remember Chris Tucker talking about this in an interview once. Or maybe I saw it on Movie Trivia or something. For a comedian, there's always an anticipation to be funny. All the time. As an amateur asshole myself, I know it can be a hard line to expect people to give you depth, but also want them to laugh very desperately. This gives "Funny People" in itself a great meta-narrative, not unlike some of Apatow's other work, in that it is a decently raucous comedy that demands to be taken seriously at the same time. A breathtaking accomplishment, speaking as a wannabe comedian here.
Given the intense layers that this film presents itself, a large part of it degrades other "low" comedies, even some not so dissimilar from much of Adam Sandler's real-life works. Painful clips of two of George Simmons' films, "Merman" (1998) and "Re-Do" (2008) make it into Funny People, both are lauded in-world as tremendous successes, if not seen by intelligent people such as Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), and ultimately Simmons himself as tremendously stupid. There are numerous other instances of shitty, shitty comedy that has widespread appeal, hack comic Randy (Aziz Ansari) and the terrible family high school show, "Yo, Teach" starring Mark Jackson (Jason Schwartzman) as a pathetic high school teacher trying comically to reach trouble youth. All this corny, broad shit adds another layer to this film beacuse Funny People's core style of humour is extremely deep and self-reflexive. This even extends to Ira's character who the film introduces as having lost a ton of weight, not unlike his off-screen persona, Seth Rogen.
There are numerous other ways the film is self-reflexive, from the subtle Australian Eric Bana playing an Australian, to the actual stand-up used by Sandler, Rogen, and Jonah Hill for the film with real-life audience reactions, to the real-life footage of Sandler making prank phone calls as Apatow's roommate. There is a continuous blend of reality and fiction that make the film's impact that much stronger, as well as add to the depth of its own reality, which contrasts with some of the hyper-realities of comedies such as "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" (2004) or "Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story" (2007), which rely heavy on an askewed universe (But not an Askewniverse oh ho ho).
The movie loses some ground in its complexity, however. It is hard to distinguish a main character even, as both George and Ira have some significant character arcs and intense drama with both their personal relationships, not all of which work out nicely. I've read some reviews commenting on either an anti-climax, or an otherwise weak third act, but I tend to disagree. Understanding Ira is key to why George and former love Laura's (Leslie Mann) doomed relationship. It ultimately could not end any other way, which Ira sees, but George cannot. George reconciling with himself, not those around him proves to be the biggest change and climax of the movie. And how the hell is Apatow supposed to show this on screen? Well, he shows it by George treating Ira like a friend and co-comedian, not an underling. This is George's huge step, and forming this protege, he realises, is his means to attain happiness. It's a solid wrap up, completely unbiasedly, I have no complaints.
Alrighty then, now for the inevitable Knocked Up comparisons. By far I wasn't laughing as much as I did during Knocked Up, but I think I enjoyed Funny People a lot more. This is bizarre, really, as Knocked Up was all about overly optimistic slacker man-childs growing up in their 20s, while Funny People is all about jaded man-childs growing up in their 40s. Funny People's humour is much more subtle, its drama makes it a more compelling movie, and the richer subject matter and maturity make it a much better film by all standards. I know I'm pretty much sucking Apatow's dick throughout this whole article, but hey, if it's thick don't stop baby.
On that note, my last impression of this thing would probably be the sheer sheer amount of dick jokes in this movie. As James Taylor said when asked if he ever gets tired of playing the same songs over and over again, "Do you ever get tired of talking about your dick?" This may have just been abnormal of me, but the penis envy in this movie is incredible. I need to sit with this for a while and probably write an entire Freudian-themed post considering George's continual recognition of Ira's enormous penis, and Sandler's typical modesty concerning his own medium-sized penis. I didn't find it overwhelming, but definitely noticeable after a while about how much they talked about their penises. In fact, you can pretty much gauge Ira and George's relationship by how big they call each others' penis. George complementing Ira when he's in a good mood, degrading his tiny tiny penis when he gets upset. It's a strange dynamic.
Thus the film consistently has a keen eye for the mind of the comedian. They're all funny people, but the humour is always masking something, and they joke both to cover up things they are feeling and what they don't want to feel. George Simmons' life has become so hollow, you can tell why he has such an urge to get up on stage, not only to make his audience laugh, but perhaps to make him laugh too. That laughter is covering up all the wrongs and excesses he has had in his life. It's a rare comedy movie about comedy (ooo another layer!) that pulls off its routines incredibly. I'm tempted that it edges "The Hangover" as best comedy, if not best film of the Summer of 2009.
Real quick, if any reason to watch this movie, the cameos from all kinds of stand-ups are incredible, Eminem and Ray Romano are legendary here. Try to keep in mind, though, that this is not meant to be an extremely high comedy, which I'm afraid many people won't understand and not give this film a chance from the kinds of reviews I've read and the early Box Office numbers. Not unlike Walk Hard, which I thought was another incredible feat in meta-humour. The obvious tricky thing about meta-humour is of course, though, that when the audience isn't in on the joke or doesn't care then it falls flat. Frankly, I'd say that audience can go see Merman instead.