Judge DAAAAAAAANIEL KELLY likes M&Ms and chips!
"You're my best friend, and I don't even like you."
After two runaway box-office hits with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, the financial winning streak had to end at some point for director Judd Apatow. Things came to a crashing climax last July when the $75 million Funny People failed to recoup its production cost, despite favorable reviews. A more meditative and mature film than previous efforts, Funny People was something of a passion project for Apatow and leading man Adam Sandler, each looking to flex both their comedic and dramatic muscles in the filmmaking process. It's a real pity that the picture didn't ignite audience interest more fiercely (the bland marketing campaign is probably to blame) because Funny People is a refreshing and entertaining change of pace for all involved. At nearly two and a half hours in length the film could have been a little more discriminatingly edited, but overall this is an effort that borders on excellence and is deserving of a far grander reception than it eventually got. Universal (who endured a financially abysmal summer) will be hoping that this Blu-Ray release further exposes this underrated gem to the masses that passed it by.
Facts of the Case
George Simmons (Adam Sandler, Click) is the world's most famed comedian and its saddest man. Friendless and alone, George finds out that he's seriously ill with only an 8 percent chance of survival. Appearing at a stand-up comedy club after his diagnosis, George's act bombs amidst a sea of dark humor and death-inspired rambling. However the night isn't a complete loss as he comes across struggling young comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen, Observe and Report) who is in turn offered the chance to write George material and act as his assistant. As the end approaches, George ditches the lame movies that made him millions and focuses again on stand-up, traveling the country with Ira and letting the inexperienced funnyman see what it's like at the top. However it soon transpires that George's greatest regret is losing the love of his life, Laura (Leslie Mann, Shorts), who is now married to a philandering Australian (Eric Bana, Troy) and has two children. Amidst the news that his treatment is working and the sickness retreating, George decides to pursue his relationship with Laura, bringing an unsuspecting and perplexed Ira along for the ride.
The performances in Funny People are outstanding, particularly the central one offered by Sandler. As a comedic actor, Sandler has always been popular but is often shunned by critics and highbrow cineastes; Funny People proves that the man isn't all fart and groin gags. Sandler has gone serious before, chiefly in Punch Drunk Love, but Funny People cements his status as a credible actor and talented goof. The character of George is an interesting one, primarily because he is for most of the running time an unhappy and unstable asshole. Sandler has fused a lot of dark energy and depressing moments into his performance, providing audiences with one of the year's most conflicted and fascinating anti-heroes. As a writer the creation of George is also breaking new ground for Apatow, in the past his leads have all been lovable nerds, here the main man is a bitter and sick individual whom wealth and fame have broken rather than made. The relationship sculpted between George and Ira is well served by good writing and excellent acting, Rogen shifting his performing style completely for his part. In terms of broadening his range, 2009 has been a good year for Seth Rogen, along with his twisted and frantic effort in Observe and Report, his more subdued and dramatically astute effort in Funny People highlights his potential ability. Rogen also builds an interesting relationship with Sandler and really helps to accentuate the flaws and positives in George as a character. This central dynamic is one of the films grandest strengths, Apatow builds solid characterization and the actors are keen to exploit it to the maximum.
The supporting players are unusually strong and each is given the detail and depth that lesser comedies would struggle to endow upon their most important figures. As Ira's show business buddies, Jonah Hill (Superbad) and Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited) are funny and assured, showcasing an air of desperation and uncertainty despite the success each seems to be approaching. Leslie Mann is decent as George's lost love and works hard to concoct spark alongside Sandler, though she isn't maybe quite as remarkable as other performers. As her husband, Eric Bana seems overblown in context to everyone else's more restrained acting and there are moments when he seems to be confused by the comedic beat. I found his performance less troubling on the small screen, and he is undoubtedly talented, but if I had to pick a weak link it would have to be him.
The screenplay is a comedy epic of sorts though in fairness I see Funny People as more of a drama than anything else. It works on both levels but on this occasion, I just connected a little more sharply with the story and characters than the jokes, Apatow actively highlighting that he's a talented filmmaker within both genres. As with his other directorial efforts, Apatow also writes and it's spellbinding to view just how organic and watchable the story feels in his hands, the dialogue zings but the situations and people also seem so real and three dimensional. This coupled with the stellar acting is what really marks out Funny People as a contender for People's end of year top ten, everything about the production gels smoothly and comes together with a slight yet masterful storytelling touch. The crude humor and dick jokes remain but expect hefty amounts of emotional baggage and meaty character development to go along with it.
If really strong films evoke emotional responses, then Funny People is exactly that, it's a splendid ensemble piece that oozes witty banter and admirable doses of humor. In this review I've neglected pointing out how successful the film is as a comedy, it really is sharply written and consistently funny, but the superlative dramatic aspects just stand out that little bit stronger. From a visual standpoint the movie is easily Apatow's prettiest work, though hiring a cinematographer as talented as Janusz Kaminski (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) probably helps. The shot making is far more creative this time around and the visuals stronger in definition and co-ordination. In Funny People, you get a sense that the director uses settings and color to enhance the mood of the production, something absent in his previous films. The enhanced technical additions also add to the feeling that this is the most epically scaled and ambitious project Apatow has ever attempted, Funny People is a genuinely long and powerful story, drawn from its creators own time on the stand-up circuit.
The Blu-Ray release is nothing short of exceptional, crammed with extra content and boasting reasonably strong audio and video. The picture transfer is soft in a few places but other than that, it marks a detailed and aesthetically pleasurable home video experience. The audio hits the same mostly high standards and despite the film's low key nature, any good sound system will be given an adequate work out thanks to Universal's strong work on this disc. The extra content is where the Blu-Ray picks up the most points, providing a commentary, 75-minute production diary, endless outtakes and gag reels, stand-up performances, and much more. Honestly, if you wanted to kill an entire day with a single Blu-Ray set this one would probably be a pretty decent candidate, between the rated and unrated cuts of the movie there are literally hours of added bonus materials. The commentary features Sandler, Apatow, and Rogen, and the three demonstrate good chemistry and find a commendable balance between filmmaking chat and joking about. The production diary is a really cool bonus feature as it shows in great depth how production was carried out and really showcases the pride and energy everyone had concerning Funny People. There are other featurettes (some for laughs , others not) but all are over their running time interesting and well executed. The deleted scenes package is excellent and feature a lot of amusing and well shot material and seems to run forever. There is a retrospective with Sandler and Apatow as they assess their careers and relive stories from their comedy upbringing whilst to add further value there is over an hour of further stand-up material. Rounding out this definitive 2-disc set are gag reels, yet more featurettes, and well…a ton of other stuff. For fans of the movie this is a must have Blu-Ray that completely honors the film and the audience who want to enjoy it. There is BD-Live connectivity and no stinky digital copy…which I'm going to actually count as a plus.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The film's length is a problem. At 143 minutes in length (153 if you go unrated), Funny People could do with losing 15 minutes. Its massive length allows Apatow to flesh out the characters and narrative with extra relish, though at times it probably borders on indulgence. The finish also feels a little toothless and loose in comparison to what proceeds it, Funny People sort of stops rather than winds down to the cynical conclusion you expect. It's not a saccharine ending or anything like it, but to say I expected a little more bite would be to tell the truth. These are small complaints and don't detract from the greatness of this thoughtful movie, though they certainly deserve acknowledgement.
Funny People is a superb film and certainly a contender for the year's best mainstream dramedy. I would also plead with the Academy to take notice of Sandler's intrepid lead performance, how brilliant would it be to see Happy Gilmore grab an Oscar? The 2-disc Blu-Ray release is staggeringly good and I would strongly recommend picking it up as soon as possible.
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