For the most part, writer/ director Judd Apatow’s third film, “Funny People,” delivers on what its title promises— a funny movie about funny people doing funny things. The film comes up short when it tries to tackle such decidedly unfunny issues as life and death and love and loss.
It’s not that Apatow can’t handle the serious stuff, his track record is full of films that have walked the line between comedy and drama, but in “Funny People” he just seems to be trying to cover too much ground.
Unwieldy doesn’t even begin to describe the 146 minute film, which actually somehow manages to feel even longer than that.
The film tells the story of George Simmons (Adam Sandler), a famous comedian and actor who is diagnosed with a seemingly fatal illness. With this news still fresh in his mind; George has a Scrooge-like epiphany, realizing that he has been living his life the wrong way.
So, just like Ebenezer before him, George decides to turn his life around while he still has time.
He gets back into stand-up comedy, he attempts to makes peace with his past and he even plays mentor to an up-and-coming young comedian named Ira Wright (Seth Rogen).
Now, any one of those plot threads could be a fine movie in and of itself, but that wasn’t enough for Apatow, who instead throws them all into one big room and lets them battle it out for screen time.
The comedic elements of the story tend to come out on top, with ample amounts of time paid to things like looking behind the curtain into the world of stand-up as well as jokes about a terrible sitcom staring Wright’s roommates (Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill).
Things like George’s attempts at reuniting with an old flame (Leslie Mann) and the effect that it has on her family are covered at a break-neck pace.
“Funny People” keeps on expanding, introducing new sub plots as it goes. It manages to get so big that the last act feels like another movie entirely, with only a few reoccurring jokes to remind you that you are still watching the same thing.
Here’s the thing though, for all its missteps as a “dramedy,” “Funny People” is actually a very funny, maybe even hysterically funny comedy.
Apatow’s wit is as sharp as ever, and he assembles a cast that’s as quick as he is.
All the regulars are here, but it’s Apatow crew newcomer Sandler who is given the most to do.
Sandler proved that he had acting chops outside of his tired, goofy guy shtick in 2002’s charming “Punch-Drunk Love,” but unfortunately those are nowhere to be found.
Maybe even he didn’t understand exactly what the big picture was.
One minute he’s a charismatic, if somewhat self-absorbed, clown but in the next he seems like a vindictive, miserable. well. Scrooge.
One thing that is true of Sandler, even though the drama flies over his head, he too is spot on comically-speaking. In fact, he gives his funniest performance in years.
Seth Rogen brings a new leaner, meaner physique to “Funny People” but one thing that hasn’t changed is his ability to bring laughter out of almost any situation. After working together for so many years and on so many different projects, he and Apatow must share a funny bone.
Rogen’s character would probably have been a better anchor for the story then Sandler’s as his lovable-loser is infinitely more likable.
And then there’s Leslie Mann who, despite being given very little to do and traveling at hyper-drive through the film’s final act, still manages to get some of its biggest laughs.
She continues to be one of the most underrated and most talented comedic actresses working today.
The biggest surprise in “Funny People” is easily Torsten Voges, who plays George’s heavily-accented doctor.
Going toe-to-toe with some of the biggest names in comedy is not an easy thing to do. Managing to steal a few laughs from them is nearly impossible. Especially for an actor whose last paying gig was as “German Soldier” in the videogame “Call of Duty: World at War,” but Voges manages to do both.
The biggest thing working against “Funny People” is simply too many good ideas and not enough time to develop them all. Apatow gamely tries to juggle a multitude of diverse themes, but the end result is a dramedy that is heavy on the comedy but light on the drama, and a script that is packed with laughs, but lacking in depth.
3.5 out of 5