Wednesday, August 12, 2009

490 - Funny People review

Towards the end of “Funny People,” wannabe comic superstar Ira (Seth Rogen) tells actual comic superstar George (Adam Sandler) “You must be the only person in history to learn nothing from a near-death experience.” It’s this statement that encapsulates Judd Apatow’s latest, a characteristically meandering dramedy that’s neither funny nor affecting. When Ira utters that line, we’re forced to consider just what it is that Apatow thinks one should learn from narrowly avoiding death. Living life to the fullest? Concern for others? Doing good works? Problem is, those are platitudes, life’s lessons are subjective, and Apatow’s script and direction fail to imbue meaning to the characters and events, instead clumsily passing the moral buck to the audience (and I’m not even touching on the folly of violating conventional wisdom by writing a script where no real character growth transpires).

Sandler puts on his serious hat for the first time since the disastrous “Reign Over Me” as George, a comedian whose leap from stage to PG-13 movie star has left him fabulously wealthy but secluded in his sprawling estate. Snippets of George’s movies present the tantalizing possibility of a sharp commentary on Sandler’s filmography, but the faux-comedies are presented with the goofiness set to 11, negating any chance of satire.

When George contracts a fatal blood disease (one of those movie illness that never gets in the way of his life), he hires Rogen’s Ira, a hack comedian, to be his assistant. He’s ostensibly there to write jokes but his actual purpose is to serve as a friend that George can treat like absolute shit. Scenes that should establish sympathy for George instead serve to emphasize his nasty disposition. Ira himself engages in underhandedness and betrayal that makes it difficult to sympathize with his own failing attempts to become a breakout.

The game is changed when George discovers that experimental medication from Canada (my ass) has worked, leaving him disease free. Gears shift as puts the moves on old flame Laura (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife), ignoring her husband (Eric Bana, easily the film’s best performance) and children (Apatow and Mann’s two cute-ish daughters) in the process. Where George was a jerk before, he is now vile, while the camera lovingly dotes on Apatow’s real-life family, reminding us that in an industry crammed with people begging to break down the door, some choose to treat the industry like their personal playground.

It’s an open secret that comedians are often morose, unpleasant personalities offstage, presumably using humor to cope with whatever pains them. “Funny People” flirts with this topic but stops short of exploiting it, an unforgivable failure seeing as that could have been the pathos injection needed. As was the case with both “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” Apatow’s leading characters are never as nice as he thinks they are, and here, they’re not only not nice, they’re not funny.

1 comment:

Blake Badker said...

My comment for this wound up on the comment for 489. Must've been a computer error or something.