Rating: 3.5 out of 4
There is plenty to be gotten from "Funny People", but most importantly, we must aknowledge the leading force behind this film: Judd Apatow. Not only did he direct it (despite a recent prolific career, he's only directed two other films), but he produced it and was the sole writer for it. He claimed he wanted to make a movie about comedians that reflected the light and dark side of their routines.
So without any question, the blood, sweat, and tears that went into this movie were going for more than Apatow's last film, "Year One". In fact, he was so invested, his voice is one of the first things heard in the whole film.
With his dedication publicly displayed, he also received notoriety for not cutting the movie down from two hours and thirty minutes, which was an hour more than an average comedy, but only twenty more than his longest prior.
The story is simple: legendary comedian George (Adam Sandler) meets Ira (Seth Rogen) and they become friends just to discover George is dying of a rare blood disease. George hires Ira as a writer to counter-act his obsession with the inevitable gloom that reaked in his humor. The movie goes deeper to include a love story with his ex-girlfriend (Leslie Mann) and roommates who are on a lame, but successful TV show (Jonah Hill and the priceless Jason Schwartzman).
The rates of cameos are ridiculous and probably throw off how good this film actually is to some, but in truth, it's a movie about comedians and every name you can think of is either acting or referenced in some way.
Some are more questionable than others, but the ones that stand out as being promising new talent include "Parks and Recreation" regulars Aziz Ansari and Aubrey Plaza, whose brief time on screen running jokes could keep the crowd laughing well into the next scene.
Despite the overpopulation of comedy, the movie also dwells into other areas that if it wasn't Judd Apatow, you would never see. There is the dark, harsh reality to the characters. George is lonely and dying. Ira is struggling to be something more. Together, their vulnerability plays well and gives you the sense of awkward friendship that eventually blooms.
While Seth Rogen continues to be a diverse comedian (starring in slapstick comedies like "Superbad", voice animation like "Monsters Vs Aliens", and dark comedies like "Observe and Report"), this movie is really Adam Sandler's moment to shine as both the buffoon and the lover.
This is not Sandler's first time into drama, or even comedy-blended drama. Titles like "Punch Drunk Love" got him recognition as more than a buffoon, but never really let him break loose and adapt the old goofiness with the newfound maturity. This movie takes it and finds the human core that makes it work. He is not trying to be "Billy Madison" anymore, but traces of faux accents and off-color jokes give him the youthful appeal of his aging character.
This is also one of Judd Apatow's most solid efforts. Majority of his previous films all contained a strong, philosophical moral, but were all spliced into underdog juveniles who were vulnerable, creating a more silly appeal to the films. While there is plenty to laugh at, very little comes across as stupid as any scene from "You Don't Mess with the Zohan". No hummus-shooting hoses, just Sandler and Rogen, taking on Eric Bana in an epic finale.
The movie works simply because it doesn't try to go for the jokes. It takes the "Freaks and Geeks" route and goes for the characters. Once they're cracked, they become personal attachments that you don't feel ashamed about laughing at, not mean spiritedly, but just for their naivety.
This is not nearly as quotable as "Pineapple Express" nor is it as raunchy as "Knocked Up", but it is one of the most heartfelt movies Apatow has worked on that manages to blend edgy humor with vulnerability without ruining the other. While this movie may go underlooked by the academy, I would at least want to recommend acting recognition from Adam Sandler, who remains in comedy limbo between mature quality roles and desperation to capture the old self, but somehow again continues to surprise people when the right part comes along.