Rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality, 146 minutes
Funny People is enjoyable, clever and well-written but at 146 minutes, far too long for a comedy
Admittedly, I’m not an Adam Sandler fan. He started out well, but his immature, high-strung humor has become irritatingly repetitive over the years, as he essentially plays the same character in every one of his films. Knowing his brand of humor, I wasn’t exactly excited about seeing him play a comedian for 2 ½ hours in his new movie, "Funny People."
Fortunately, he’s paired with a smart, talented writer like Judd Apatow ("Knocked Up") whose skillful with his comic sensibilities, making "Funny People" entertaining, clever and fun with Sandler mellow and tolerable. Apatow knows quick-witted comedic writing, but he's a self-indulgent filmmaker and should learn the value of efficient storytelling (i.e. editing) and the realization that comedies, even character-driven ones like this one, should not be an epic 146 minutes long.
Sandler is George Simmons, a former stand-up comedian who hit the big time making some silly, mostly awful crowd-pleasing movie comedies such as "Mer-man." He’s diagnosed with a terminal, inoperable illness that forces him to re-evaluate his life. With few genuine, real friends, he starts doing stand up again in L.A. and meets a relatively new performer to the stand up game, Ira Wright (Seth Rogan), and soon takes him under his wing as his assistant and writing some of his jokes.
As George’s health begins looking better, he re-establishes a friendship with an old flame, Laura (Leslie Mann), who has since gone on to marry and have a lovely family with a successful but fiery Australian businessman (Eric Bana). As George and Ira’s friendship grows, they soon realize their complexities may be too much for each other.
"Funny People" is a pleasant, flavorful but overlong dramedy with well-developed, nicely shaded characters and humor. Apatow’s quick wit and the cast chemistry is the film’s highlight with some fine original touches (those faux bad movie clips and posters are especially amusing), but as a director "Funny People" represents his most excessive and overly ambitious film. It starts out well as a sharp yet downbeat look at successful comedians, but meanders when it bogs down on family drama; the last section in particular could’ve been considerably tightened, making the film a full half-hour too long.
"Funny People’s" warm, engaging cast almost makes up for the film’s length. Sandler as he plays in a restrained, benignly charming performance. Though it’s not exactly a great stretch for him playing comedian, you also won’t find the usual Sandler gags of farting, screaming or physically harming people (in one twist, he actually gets beat up). Sandler is essentially playing a version of himself, but it’s also one of his more accessible (and least annoying) parts, even if he lacks the depth required for it.
Sandler’s well-teamed with Rogan (they’re George and Ira – as in Gershwin – a nice Apatow touch), who delivers some of the film’s best lines and keeps pace with Sandler in wit, timing and physical presence. The Sandler-Rogan chemistry carries the film and if "Funny People" is a big hit, it’s what people will remember most. It’s fun seeing them write jokes together, teasing the doctors and teasing each other.
Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann is delightful as Sandler’s love interest, and it’s fun seeing the normally intense Bana ("Munich") playing light comedy in a small role. As Ira’s geeky pals, Apatow regular Jonah Hill ("Superbad") and Jason Schwartzman steal some of "Funny People’s" more humorous moments, particularly Schwartzman (who also does some of the folksy music in the film) as a second-rate actor on an even worse TV show. And in another bit of casting nepotism, watch for Apatow and Mann's real-life daughters playing Mann's daughters here and who seem to have a natural talent in front of the camera.
There are loads of cameos in "Funny People" by many, many comedians - really too many to name here - but the most memorable ones come from two non-comedians – singers Eminem and James Taylor in separate scenes, delivering profane lines that can’t be repeated here.
Apatow has a gift for writing comedy, and he and Sandler deliver the goods in "Funny People," a pleasing, yet overlong and caustic look at comedians. They hit a double here, but if they want a home run, they need to get there a lot quicker and more expediently.