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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
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The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
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Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Lisbon
Fat Possum
LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

August 24, 2009
RATING: 5.1/10
In 2005, Judd Apatow's first directing project, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, surprised a lot of people by being sweet. In 2007, when Knocked Up heralded the arrival of the Judd Apatow Era (this guy's written or directed or co-written or co-produced or like rigged the lights on like every comedy made in the past three years aside from Vicky Cristina Barcelona), the refreshing, ticklish formula had been established: schlubby, emotionally stunted guys are forced through changes that reveal eternal verities with more elegance than most moviegoers were used to; also, they talk about dicks.

With Funny People, the third purebred Apatow movie, the dicks are in place but the crucial elegance has vanished. The movie is funny--sometimes very much so--and contains Adam Sandler's best and most relaxed comedic role, but it's also about six days long, and Apatow's surprise sightings of pathos, as if it were Bigfoot, have been replaced with full-on James Taylor-soundtracked Hollywood bathos, much of it involving slow-motion shots of Judd Apatow's wife playing with Judd Apatow's children. This is gross.



In the film Sandler plays George Simmons, a stand-up comic who made the jump to movies years ago and is reaping the dubious rewards within his sterile Los Angeles manse. Sitting in front of a bank of TVs like a failed Bond villain, he screens four or five of his old movies simultaneously, flicking his eyes back and forth and smiling desperately, looking for something to tell him he did a good job. In quiet scenes like these--depthlessly needy, with no one to need from--Sandler is perfectly used. And the fake movies, parodies of Sandler's own, are great: a Simmons character grossly cramming hot dogs into his mouth at an eating contest is interrupted by a tearful little boy rising from the audience to yell "Dad, this won't bring Mom back!" As a joke about the sentimentalism of machine comedy (we also see a movie with Simmons' digital head grafted hideously onto a baby's body; soft piano plinks as he crouches over a telephone, rasping apologies to some wronged ex-wife) this is vicious and accurate; it's strange then that we'll soon be asked to weep at Simmons' own apologies.

Simmons, you see, is dying. Desperate for life in his empty house, he hires Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to manage his affairs and be abused. Ira is a struggling comedian himself, as are his two roommates (Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzmann), whose frantic showbiz hunger feeds the movie's best byplay. Rogen plays Ira as a starstruck lapdog who gradually becomes repulsed by Simmons' monstrous solipsism; in overlong but well-drawn scenes, he sits at Simmons' bedside or across his kitchen table and timidly suggests ontological revisions.



Eventually, Ira is pressed into following Simmons to the Marin County house where his ex-fiance (Leslie Mann, Apatow's wife) lives with her children (Mann and Apatow's real children) and husband (Eric Bana). (Bana, playing an excitable, crude, occasionally insensitive but fundamentally loving guy, might give the best performance in the movie: the scene where he screams about footie isn't only an Aussie joke, just as the scene where he talks in front of his wife about the extreme hotness of her one-time rival Cameron Diaz isn't only a dickhead joke. It's a generous part.) Simmons wants to get his girl back; his reasoning is basically that her husband, not being George Simmons, can only be an idiot jerk.

The scenes in Mann's domestic paradise are the film's weirdest. On the one hand, Rogen's arc during this segment is the only structurally funny thing in the movie (all the other laughs come from dialogue): trapped in his infantile boss' love triangle, Ira scampers around trying to do the right thing despite being completely irrelevant to the entire affair and increasingly unwanted by its participants. Well-meaning, he cluelessly sabotages a total reconciliation; he's interrupted in his horrified apology by the funniest line in the movie: "Who are you?" As farce, this could be great, but Ira's torture isn't Funny People's subject, so we're left with tacky montages of dogs licking peanut butter off giggling moppets' noses while others look on and Are Transformed. We also get a scene where George Simmons' otherwise carefully sketched solipsism is supposedly reinforced by his losing interest during minute three of a five-minute clip of one of the same moppets singing Cats, which, like, I would have rather lasted thirty seconds.



Thus we're treated to the weird spectacle of a film ignoring its best shot at greatness. The early scenes of Funny People are slathered with dick jokes beyond reason or stamina, but Rogen/Hill/Schwartzmann's death-triangle of narcissism is hilarious, and Sandler's terrified hollow man is unusually subtle. When the action moves north, Apatow's set up a nice little movie where Ira's desperation to do right makes him a better man than the funny-but-broken egoists he rooms with and admires, and this angle is there, bubbling occasionally to the surface of the treacle, but something--Apatow's loyalty to his own memories; his awkward desire to make a movie about Important Shit; maybe just his weakness for his pretty wife and nice-seeming kids--throttles it. Apatow's improved as a visual director, he retains a knack for painful realism (a furious, pathetic fistfight on a Marin County lawn between Rogen, Sandler, and Bana is as incompetent as these things usually are), and he writes good banter. He's also phenomenally generous with actors. But the 146 minutes of Funny People demonstrate that he's too easily distracted, and far too easily moved.

TRAILER: www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhAONreiRww

SEE ALSO: www.funnypeoplemovie.com

--
Theon Weber


See other articles by Theon Weber.

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