It’s called Funny People. It’s written and directed by funny people. It stars actors considered to be funny people. They play characters whose careers revolve around being funny people. Is the fact the film isn’t that funny down to an ironic title, or because they spent so long smugly thinking they were funny, they forgot to add any comedy to the script?
Let’s take the foot off the abuse accelerator for just one second and start with the positives though. Funny People features a solid cast full of likeable folk, and smart piece of casting with Adam Sandler as a well established comedian slightly twisted and delusional from his world, and Seth Rogen as a newcomer to the comedy scene. See what they did there? Yeah, it’s clever isn’t it. Or akin to having Julia Roberts disguise herself as Julia Roberts in suck-fest Ocean’s Twelve. Not sure.
Anyway, when Sandler finds out he has a life-threatening disease everything goes to pot, he questions his own life, tries to win back his lost love and employs young Rogen to be his gopher. That’s pretty much the plot, but sprinkled with snippets of stand-up routines and some smaller sub-plots. Choosing to drag 146 minutes out of the idea is an interesting decision. Or, as we in the film reviewing business call it – a mistake.
The film suffers due to two main problems – structure and character. Structure, because the plot rambles around on a directionless arc, stretched out by improvised scenes that lose the funny half way through. Character, because Sandler paints such a dislikeable figure that your empathy is totally dissolved, you don’t care if he succeeds in his mission of stealing back his love and you find very little to root for. Rogen is the usual – good, but starting to get familiar.
What’s extra strange is the incredibly sombre tone throughout the film. The main comedy comes through the stand-up routines each comedian shows, some of which are very funny, others are lost a little on a non-American audience. The rest of the film is at times actually quite depressing. With the odd structure and unexpected plot corners, this comes out as not just another Judd Apatow solid comedy nugget, but as a weird comedy/drama hybrid. Not a bad thing to mix the genres. Just odd to behold when expecting something else, and when it goes on for a wee bit too long.
The abuse accelerator got pressed again didn’t it? Well there are things to enjoy too. Leslie Mann is very likeable, there’s some fabulous dry humour from Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman, and some amusing cameos from a variety of celebrities including a very surreal exchange between Eminem and Ray Romano. Plus it’s refreshing to see some family-based drama erupting from the Apatow cannon instead of porn jokes.
In short: Funny People is a quite funny, but also a quite morose and soul-searching look at the world of comedians, or just basic humans who make certain life choices. It’s too long and needs tighter control of the pace and structure, but a brave move to turn out a dramatic comedy as opposed to another Superbad. Funny People gets a standard CF0, but only if you change your expectations. And make sure you go to the loo beforehand.