Apatow, our love is over August 2, 2009
I would have written last night about what a horrible disappointment Funny People was, but it gave me such a headache I had to turn in immediately afterwards. Tossing and turning in bed, I was wracked with frustration over what a shitty film I’d sat through for two-and-a-half hours, one-and-a-half of which I wanted to get up and leave. Contrary to what its previews boast (Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler joining the Apatow Gang, a story of discovering life’s meaning, hilarity ensuing, and did we mention Judd Apatow?), this was a slow ride through moviegoer hell, designed to alienate any and all demographics. Considering that Apatow gems like Superbad are known for bringing nearly unanimous enjoyment, this is a huge, complete, and utter failure.
Funny People problematically strives to be equally good at drama and comedy, in a film confronting death and Hollywood self-obsession. Unfortunately, the humor usually falls flat and the drama is painfully rendered. It is simply not okay to devote two-and-a-half hours to character development when none of the characters develop, and all of the characters are completely unlikeable. For example, Adam Sandler’s George Simmons, a comedian who survives a close call with leukemia, stays the same incorrigible (and incidentally, unfunny) asshole that he was from the beginning. With little to no self-awareness and a lot of baseless self-involvement, he maintains the same modes of expressing these traits throughout the film: mocking Seth Rogen’s character, mocking others to the point that it’s painful to watch, and randomly rekindling relationships that the viewer can’t even believe were kindled in the first place.
One of these is with his ex-fiancée, a spineless ex-actress rendered by Leslie Mann, who starts out the film ignoring Simmons, twenty minutes later sobbing and confessing that he was “the one,” and spending most of the film being obsessed with him for no comprehensible reason. (Note to Judd Apatow: this does not count as character development, it counts as misogyny at best.) Some parts of their re-courtship would be cute if you weren’t set up to hate both of the oblivious characters, and if the characters didn’t predictably end up where they started (deluded, separated and feeling betrayed – causing the audience to feel wholly betrayed as well). Meanwhile, Seth Rogen’s brand of “development” is a passive alternation between being sycophantic (as Simmons’ assistant) and whining about Simmons’ antics. The only time that his character hits the nail on the head is when he finally says something about how fucked up it is that Simmons took his second chance at life and chose to stay the same asshole. By that time, however, it’s over two hours into the film and he’s saying what the audience already knew, only out loud and with a garish attempt to look emotionally distressed. He doesn’t punctuate the film with nearly enough humor to make up for the damage he’s done as a terrible dramatic actor, and even the lines that are on point aren’t enough to redeem him.
Of course, there is some banter that is on point, but the frustrating thing is that on no counts is it often, consistent or good enough. The only decent comedy after the first twenty minutes comes from Jonah Hill, Eric Bana, Rogen’s standup, the standup of the girl who “looks like a mouse you’d like to fuck,” and Simmons’ heart-to-heart with Eminem. Of course, it says a lot that typically dark and brooding Eric Bana is more consistently funny than actual comedic actors, and Simmons’ chit-chat with Eminem is also only circumstantially funny. Even the hilarious comments about the heavily-accented doctor from the previews are part of a series of jokes at his expense that become progressively less funny and more pointlessly cruel. Rogen and Sandler don’t know when they’ve gone too far, and neither did anyone else involved in Funny People, letting the camera roll a little too long, letting the screenplay remain staggeringly thick, and letting the success of this film ride a little too much on the association with Apatow’s brand. See it if you want, all I know is I want my $11, my headache, and my enjoyment of Seth Rogen back.