Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Maturation, Revitalization with Apatow's 'Funny People'

If I were to tell you that an artist’s maturation piece was filled with genitalia jokes, would you believe me? Now take a second and realize that this artist in question is Judd Apatow, the man whose brand of humor and name seems to be attached to more projects than he really has creative hand in, and you wouldn’t be so surprised. Writing credits aside, Apatow has only directed three feature films, the third being his sort of self-reflective film Funny People.

Not completely all-grown-up, Apatow’s latest film is a rather serious stride for the funny man filmmaker. The comedy-drama focuses intently on the relationship of struggling young comedian Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) with the terminally ill and experienced comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler). Before long, the relationship lacking Simmons attempts to bring himself back into the life of former flame, Laura (Leslie Mann), at risk of ruining her family.

Expectations can be a killer. No film, no matter how strong an artist’s ties are to a certain style or genre, should be expected to be what it isn’t. I said the same thing about the horrendously promoted Adventureland, which has turned out to be one of the best films of the year thus far. It wasn’t the Superbad-like film that the trailer made it out to be, just like Funny People isn’t a carbon copy replication of Apatow’s former work.

Apatow’s strengths in writing still exist in Funny People. Raunchy sex jokes about the size of one’s penis fused with pop culture references with names like Jon Favreau and Roger Waters dropped into various situations are what make Apatow’s style of comedy likeable and desirable. It pleases all crowds, even though some of the more dated references might not pass with the younger crowds. But still, it’s interesting to look at how Apatow has become our generation’s muse of comedy filmmaking, with a down to earth and often relatable style so replicated and so revered.

The significance of Funny People is in the return to form of Adam Sandler to quality comedic roles. Sandler has been in a mixed bag of serious dramas and lacking comedies over the past decade. With comedy, it isn’t always the actor’s fault. So necessary, to even the funniest person alive, is good material. Apatow is the type of vehicle Sandler can hitch a ride on in these later years of his acting career, and it was refreshing to see him use his opportunity here, as Apatow created a perfect role for Sandler to be able to utilize both his serious and humorous acting abilities.

What does set Funny People apart from the other Apatow branded films is a little depth and sincerity from Apatow. Not simply a formulaic comedy, this film is really a somewhat complex and fascinating concept. Sure, Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin both focused on what you could call “life issues”, but with no real honesty and no real meaning and in a more recognizable way. Funny People is an actual dramatic story, with actual consequences and actual conflict and resolution. There’s a clear distinguishable factor present in Apatow being able to keep the audience laughing while all the time making aware the serious nature of the issues at hand.

What I’m not completely sold on though is Apatow’s ability to write serious drama. The film is a little lengthy with a few scenes towards the end being a tad bit dragged on. The source of this problem could be result of Apatow’s attempt to keep the film both laugh out loud funny and contemplatively serious, a difficult combination to master. I almost wonder how the film could have been worked out without using the character of Laura to expose Simmons’ relationship problems. The concept is brilliant, a real thinker, but not perfectly executed.

Riding into the film on his one trick pony is Seth Rogen. Admittedly, I find Rogen to be a very likeable actor, even though his act is similar from film to film. He’s the Average Joe, the guy you can find something to relate to with. Providing a lot of the laughs along with Sandler and Rogen is a great supporting cast of Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza and Eric Bana. All these characters are fleshed out as much as they needed to be and placed into perfect spots in the film. I particularly love the casting of Aussie Eric Bana as the Australian husband of Laura.

Funny People really was an impressive film as far as what Apatow was able to achieve with a new direction. The mixture of comedy and serious drama is sublime and feels just right. Combining a quality project from an accomplished writer and director with Sandler’s talents, both humorous and serious, Funny People is Apatow’s most mature film yet and new successful ground for Hollywood’s supposed king of comedy.


Rob said...

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ocelot said...

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Michael Walsh said...

Thanks Rob.