Magazine article The Christian Century

Funny People

Magazine article The Christian Century

Funny People

Article excerpt

Funny People.

Directed by Judd Apatow.

Starring Adam Sandier, Seth Rogen and Leslie Mann.

After two likable hit comedies, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, writer-director Judd Apatow goes the serious route with Funny People. The results are disastrous.

The film's protagonist is a comic named George Simmons (Adam Sandler) who's estranged from his family and has no close friends. His romantic life has been restricted to one-night stands since he lost the only woman he's ever loved by cheating on her. When George discovers that he's dying of leukemia, he keeps the news from everyone he knows. His only confidant is Ira (Seth Rogen), a struggling young comedian whose set he catches at the L.A. comedy club The Improv.

Initially George hires Ira to write jokes for him, but Ira quickly becomes George's personal assistant and finds himself shouldering George's emotional burden. Ira doesn't have much confidence in himself. He works at a deli counter and sleeps gratis on the couch in an apartment rented by two friends, Mark (Jason Schwartzman), who plays a hip high school teacher on a TV sitcom, and Leo (Jonah Hill), another aspiring stand-up comic.

The set-up is familiar, and we can see immediately where it will lead: George will help Ira become his own man while Ira puts George in touch with his own humanity. But Apatow doesn't have the skill to keep the material from becoming maudlin or the discipline to structure it efficiently. As a maker of sweet, ribald comedies, he relies on a talent for riffing and a willingness to raise the stakes on fiat-house humor. But his taste in performers is erratic, and he doesn't care about plot logic. Knocked Up got away with Rogen's blunt, unvaried presence and with the improbable premise that beautiful Katherine Heigl would decide to raise a child with an unemployed stoner.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

In a drama like Funny People, the limits of Apatow's skills become glaring. Since Ira's jokes bomb at The Improv (partly because of his terror when he learns he has to follow George's set), George's decision to hire him as a writer is baffling. (George wants to hire Leo, too, but Ira never bothers to tell him about the offer--a glimpse into Ira's unattractive ambitious side that the movie never bothers to explore. …

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