It’s weird with Judd Apatow having his name on so many films to think he only has directed a grand total of three. His touch has been on everything from “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan” to “Superbad” and seeing actors like Seth Rogen, Michael Cera and Jason Segel immediately brings his name to mind. But like trailers for “Funny People” have suggested, Apatow’s latest film is a combination of toned-down comedy with a heavy dash of drama and complexity. Being a self-professed anti-Adam Sandler fan, I’ve got to admit, I liked the combination.
Opening with actual home video of a young Sandler making prank calls to local businesses, the tone was set for the film: this is a Judd Apatow’s film for Adam Sandler, about Adam Sandler. Granted it’s no biography, but telling the story of a stand-up comedian stuck doing crappy comedies about a mer-man and a man trapped in a baby’s body who needs to find the meaning of his life seems to strike a bit true to Sandler’s life.
Starring: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana
Running time: 146 mins
Seen at: Boston Common Loews
Except in this case, instead of returning to stand-up like his character George Simmons, Sandler has showed he is more than just a one-note, baby-voiced comedy machine: with “Funny People” he reinforced the fact that he could act. But maybe that ties into the fact that, like Eminem’s amazing performance in “8 Mile” the only reason he did so well was because it was his life and unhappiness he was portraying.
Apatow pushed the bounds of his actors just enough to get them out of their one-note rut. Like Sandler taking on the role of a jaded, unhappy comedian struggling to resolve his life once he found out he didn’t have much time left (and then to find its meaning once he found out he did), Seth Rogen takes many steps away from the characters we have come to know and love of his. Granted, his comedy has taken many shades, all the way from “Knocked Up” to “Observe and Report” to “Fanboys” but the Rogen seen in “Funny People” is a sincere, innocent variation that has not yet been seen. Rogen, like Sandler, did some incredibly acting that was worthy of mention.
Unlike many comedies out this summer, including “The Hangover” which was arguably the funniest film of the year, there was never one moment during “Funny People” where something absurd happened to make it not seem like a real story. These are real people with real lives and real emotions, which means the not as happy ending might be the right one. Without straying into genre stereotypes and stupid comedy, Apatow proved he is not only a great comedian but a great filmmaker. And what “Funny People” may lack in being a great comedy, it makes up for with being a great film.