Every director has at least one misstep in their careers. Name off all the great directors in the world and you'll probably find one movie that didn't fit in the director's canon or just plan didn't resonate with mass audiences. Judd Apatow has hit it out of the park twice in his years as a director, with Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. His latest film, Funny People, is the first film to flat out fail since it lacks the Apatow charm and humor. For a film with the title Funny People, it's got a lot of people, none of whom are funny.
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a wealthy stand-up comic turned successful actor who lives the life of privilege that a normal person can only dream of. When he's diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia he discovers he has all the money in the world but it's come at the expense of his family, and the woman he once loved. With the help of a fledgling comedian named Ira (Seth Rogen), George attempts to go back to his roots and possibly reconnect with his love Laura (Leslie Mann) who is living in an unsatisfying marriage to Clark (Eric Bana).
It's interesting to see the risk Judd Apatow took with this film, making a dramatic comedy about the man's mortality and trying to find meaning in life. George Simmons is a man who should be loving life with his excessive wealth and no problems in our current economy, yet is miserable and lonely having to be talked to sleep by his employees. When he receives the news that he's going to die it shocks him back to reality and forces him to reconnect with the people he's pushed away. Simmons is a rather deep character in this movie and with that comes a lot of deep conversations he has with Laura about how he came to be in this place. The dialogue is strong and it really allows the audience to connect with the characters since the film brings up topics we all need to face at some point in life. The movie also takes a more subtle approach of showing the contrasting priorities between young adults and older adults. The relationship between Ira and George has its highs and lows and the differences in what the other finds important is interesting. There's a great scene at Thanksgiving with George giving a touching toast about the group assembled appreciating that particular moment and remembering it into their old age.
The biggest issue is how misleading the ads for this movie are. The promotion hypes this as an Apatow comedy filled with raunchy humor when it's anything but. The film doesn't seem to know whether to be a comedy, a drama or a blend of both which means all the jokes are one-liners and are performed into the ground. There's a recurring joke about Jason Schwartzman's character on a sitcom that is brought up about ten times during the length of the movie and becomes so tedious, there are several jokes like this that get pummeled. The first half of the movie seems to focus on Ira trying to get his big break, only for his story to be dropped for the rest of the movie in favor of George and his illness. This wouldn't be a big deal if George was a likeable guy but he never changes or redeems himself. At the end of the movie you're left unfulfilled because everyone is exactly the same as they started. The almost two and a half hour run time is also a big problem because the movie just drags on and on. There's so much story and so many different plot points that it becomes so boring and dull. This is worsened by the big faltering love story between Laura and George. The promos advertise Mann and Bana in this when they don't appear until over two hours into the movie and Mann's character is such a manipulative succubus she's never funny. Funny People should probably have been named Narcissistic People due to the overabundance of celebrity cameos and reminiscences to the actor's pasts. There are so many unnecessary celebs that just show up and are never heard from again that it becomes a big Who's Who after awhile.
Adam Sandler is a strong actor in this but he spends the whole movie going between yelling and being morose. His character would have been far stronger had he not had an unmentioned case of bipolar disorder. Seth Rogen needs to stop attempting subtle comedy because he fails at it. This immediately brought up memories of Observe and Report. While his character in this is not as crass or unlikeable, Rogen just seems to stumble with the material and doesn't know what to do. Leslie Mann usually plays the loveable psycho and in here she's just the latter. She plays George and Clark against each other and comes off as an annoyance. It was also sad to see Eric Bana wasted. He had some funny material but there are a few throwaway lines meant to make him a jerk that just don't work. At the end I didn't learn anything about his character except he could speak Mandarin with an Australian accent. Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman are flat-out wasted and they have done far superior work than this.
Funny People is a sad disappointment but all directors have their weak ones. Hopefully Apatow will bounce back and deliver better next time. In the meantime stick to The Hangover because this film is not the great comedy it was hyped up as. Funny People gets a 2/5.