“Funny People” is a big leap for an already terrific director. Judd Appatow has really made a name for himself since directing “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up. This his first film to truly balance comedy and authentic characters and situations from start to finish. It is a fascinating character study as well as a behind the scenes look at the gruelling world of stand up comics.
Adam Sandler has also made a name for himself over the years, although in a very different manner. We are used to seeing him play sarcastic and laid back, yet masking rage. Only one or two times has he taken on a more dramatic role, each time succeeding. This time he gives the best performance of his career. He plays George Simmons, a seriously depressed and haunted actor, famous for playing roles that are not that far removed from what Adam Sandler typically does. When he is told by his doctor’s that he only has a limited time to live, he decides to go back to doing stand up. The results are disastrous.
One night he meets Ira, played by Seth Rogan. He sees Ira’s act and decides to hire him to write jokes. Ira has been trying desperately to make it as a stand up comedian. His two roommates, played by Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill, who seem to be having way more success then is. That is until he is hired by Simmons to write jokes. Suddenly his career starts to take off. But he finds that Simmons needs more then just a writer, he needs someone to confide in, someone who might even work as a friend. Things start out OK but grow more complicated.
Eventually George actually beats his illness and is given a new lease on life What does he learn from his experience? Almost nothing at all. But it does help him reconnect with his lost love, played by Leslie Mann. Simmons was not faithful to her back in their youth so she left him, but he never forgot her. Now she is married to a rather scary Australian man played by Eric Bana. How this triangle plays out is one of the biggest delights of the film. Do not delude yourself in to thinking you know how it is going to end.
What really stands out in this movie is the performances. Sandler shows us depths we didn’t know he had. He broke new ground in “Punch-Drunk Love” , but in this movie he fleshes this character inside and out. I for one hope it is remembered come award time. Another stand out is Seth Rogen, who doesn’t simply play the funny supporting friend, but truly cares and is the voice of reason that Simmons never seems to listen to.
Big budget comedies like this rarely pay such attention to details in it’s characters. Appatow is really a person who understands comedy and character. He likes to tell real stories, about people we are very familiar with.