Funny People (2009)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Funny People</strong> (2009)

(On Cable TV, August 2015)  There is a good reason why Funny People often comes up in any discussion of Adam Sandler’s career: While Sandler has done dramatic roles elsewhere (Punch-Drunk Love, Reign over Me), his turn in Funny People as a terminally-ill famous comedian trying to grapples with his impending mortality builds upon his performances in other, far sillier movies.  It’s a masterful use of an existing actor persona by writer/director Judd Apatow, and Sandler actually gets some dramatic mileage out of his role.  A good chunk of the film isn’t bad either: the dramatization of the stand-up comedian’s life in Los Angeles is fascinating, and the film features a bunch of good performances by other actors, from an unusually serious turn for Seth Rogen (with similarities to material later explored in 50/50), to fine performances by Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jason Schwartzman, Jonas Hill, Aubrey Plaza and a ton of comedy cameos.  (The Hill/Rogen interactions are fascinating, especially given the trajectories that both of their careers took afterward).  Some of the meta-commentary about Sandler films, usually seen through glimpses of the terrible movies featuring the protagonist, are a treat for any followers of American comedy films.  Happily, there is some thematic and emotional heft to it all, striking a good balance between comedy and drama.  But it could have been better.  The first half of Funny People is conventionally satisfying… then comes The Twist, and the second half of the movie seems at odds with the first, the pacing slowing down to a crawl, the setting, characters and tone changing significantly.  Apatow, of course, does what he pleases –and his films have never been accused of being too short.  But at two-and-a-half hour, Funny People seems to lose its way at some point, and tightening up the result could have worked wonders.  Still, Sandler’s striking performance remains, and the result is an impressive collaboration between a gallery of notable circa-2009 comedians.

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