Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in Judd Apatow’s Funny
LAUGHING ALL THE WAY TO THE CANCER WARD
by Kevin Bowen
published July 31, 2009
now playing nationwide
Tonight, on a very special episode of Knocked Up …..
Ben ditches Alison, gets a job in a deli, and changes his name to Ira
Wright (Seth Rogen), presumably to avoid child support payments. He and Jonah Hill (whose name is always Jonah Hill, no matter what character
he plays) move in with Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) in Hollywood, where they quit the nudie website and all set out to be standup
comedians. That’s where Ira meets world famous funny man George Simmons, a remorseful perpetual jerk dying of cancer outside the public eye.
Ira befriends him, cares for him, writes his jokes as he suffers through the pain. Eventually, Simmons tries to reconcile with his old flame
(Leslie Mann), who happens to be Alison’s sister. Strangely, Allison’s sister has ditched Paul Rudd and moved to Marin County with that guy
from Munich (Eric Bana), who is no longer Israeli but Australian. Huh.
I suppose we’ve been asking for this. A film from Judd Apatow that is deeper than the laughs and the
penis references, even though Funny People has more than its share. In fact, it’s been such a
long time coming that Apatow seems to have given us two of them.
The first one— centering on Sandler’s illness, male friendship, and
reminiscence – is smoother, better executed, and has the vulgar comedy that Apatow’s fans love. Its observations on life and death are
heartfelt but not particularly original or profound. Yes, we should all value each day and each person in our lives. Yet that sort of
sentiment doesn’t get us much past the last episode of Cheers. As a writer, Apatow really hits the
funny bone at times, and there’s a tender little speech by Sandler over Thanksgiving dinner that has much appeal. Yet too often it is exactly
what you would expect from ”funny man tries to be serious by writing about cancer.” And no one should try an emotive drama and cast Rogen in,
well, any role (although Sandler is better than you would expect, and digs deeper into himself and his persona than you’ll ever
The second film is unfocused, with sharp personality changes, and somehow feels too long and too
short at the same time. Yet it has the braver and more original perspective, as Simmons visits his ex-girlfriend’s home for a tryst and ends
up spending the weekend with her husband and family. In trying to rekindle the “love of his life” Simmons pursues a melodramatic personal
transformation rather than appreciate the small and real one that has taken place through his friendship with Ira. Now that’s a smart thing
to say. Actually it’s a little similar to Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited, a film that
Schwartzman happened (maybe more than happened) to star in and co-write. Too bad that everyone in the audience is going to hate this part
and wonder where the penis jokes went.
Years ago, the Texas Rangers had a smooth swinging, hard charging
leftfielder named Rusty Pierce. He was a fan favorite for running really hard after fly balls and making diving catches. But I once heard it
pointed out that, while his hustle and effort were admirable, he was diving after balls that more talented leftfielders would glide underneath
for easy catches. And that’s what Funny People is.
kevinbowen @ stageandcinema.com