Review by Gordon Justesen
Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman,
Director: Judd Apatow
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 153 Minutes
Release Date: November 24, 2009
“You're not funny. You look funny, but you're not funny.”
Going into Funny People, I was expecting nothing more than just a side-splitting comedy. When you have the likes of Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen headlining a movie from writer/director Judd Apatow, one would expect nothing less. What I wasn’t expecting was one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, as well as one of the best human comedies I’ve ever seen.
I didn’t really expect Apatow to evolve so much as a filmmaker in such a short period of time. As funny and well-written as The 40 Year-Old-Virgin and Knocked Up were, neither contained the remarkably superb balance of comedy and drama that lies at the heart of his third effort as a writer/director. A hilarious movie that also happens to be remarkably deep and filled left and right with fantastic characters, Funny People is actually a rarity among movies in general.
It’s also a personal film for Apatow in the same way that Almost Famous was for Cameron Crowe. Set against the backdrop of the standup comedy scene in LA, the story is actually based on a chapter in Apatow’s life during his days as a struggling comedian. Those experiences inspired him to make what is easily the single best movie about standup comedy.
George Simmons (Sandler) went from being a struggling comedian to becoming one of the richest movie stars in Hollywood. His life takes a sour turn when he learns he has a rare form of blood disease, and that he may not have much time left. But rather than run right out to inform the press about his condition, George simply finds himself immediately returning to standup as a way of escaping the bad news.
Ira Wright (Rogen) is an aspiring standup comic who’s stuck in a dead end job at a shopping mall deli store. He also sleeps on a pull out couch in the apartment he shares with fellow amateur comic Leo (Jonah Hill) and Mark (Jason Schwartzman), the star of a corny sit com who likes point out repeatedly that he makes the most money out of the three of them. In other words, Ira is the pure epitome of someone trying to make it big in the comedy scene.
George and Ira come to know one another through an unusual circumstance, as Ira ends up following a surprise standup act from George, which appears to be more depressing than funny. Ira takes advantage of George’s dark act by poking fun at him during his performance, and ends up winning the crowd over unexpectedly. Hurt, but also incredibly impressed, George ends up hiring Ira to write jokes for him, in addition to becoming his opening act.
But Ira’s newly hired position has a huge second purpose. George clearly needs someone he can talk to about his current state. He doesn’t want to tell any friends or family members, as he is more comfortable revealing details to someone he doesn’t know that well, and Ira is certainly that.
However, there is one person from his past that he wants to reconnect with, his former girlfriend Laura (Leslie Mann). Following an unexpected development in his condition, George feels that there couldn’t be a better time to try and win back the only girl he fell in love with, even though she has since gotten married and started a family. But when he learns that her husband, Clarke (Eric Bana), has cheated on her more than once, he feels even more confident.
One flaw that was present, to me, in Apatow’s last two features was the fact that they ran much longer than they needed to be. This was definitely true of Knocked Up, which I felt dragged a little too much in its second half. I liked that movie overall, but there were many scenes towards the end that should’ve been saved for the Deleted Scenes section.
I bring this up because Funny People is not only Apatow’s longest feature to date, clocking in at 153 minutes, but one of the longest movies for this type of genre in general. I feared prior to watching it that the same flaw would keep it from being completely great, but as it turns out I thought the movie had earned every minute. The level of realism that Apatow brings to the story is so refreshing and the characters are so incredibly well written, that I honestly never wanted the film to end.
It’s basically comprised of two parts; the first with George dealing with his condition and the second in his attempt to win back Laura. But at the heart of the film is the relationship between George and Ira. It has many bumps in the road, just like any friendship in life, and for a while it seems that it will not end will between them, and yet the final scene is absolutely perfect in illustrating how one has inspired the other.
For Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen, Funny People represents each actor’s best work to date. Sandler has shown a great deal of range over the years in films such as Punch Drunk Love, Spanglish and Reign Over Me, and the role of George Simmons perfectly combines his dramatic side with his hilarious side, as it is perhaps his raunchiest role yet. It was quite bold of Sandler to take on the project, which Apatow (a close friend of Sandler’s for 20 plus years) wrote for him, since his own career somewhat parallels that of George’s.
However, I think the true shining star of the film is Seth Rogen, who has never been more likable on screen and deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance. For me personally, there hasn’t been a more relatable character than Ira, and Rogen’s signature charm is put to excellent use in the role. His mild awkwardness, as illustrated in a scene where he asks fellow comedian Daisy (Aubrey Plaza) to a concert and a later scene where he cracks a lame joke about pizza while eating dinner with Laura and her husband, are moments I could definitely relate to.
Another great element of the film is Apatow’s use of music in pivotal scenes, much similar to that of, once again, Cameron Crowe. In fact, I was blown away by the soundtrack that I immediately went and purchased the entire soundtrack on iTunes after seeing the movie, which includes great tracks from the likes of Robert Plant, Warren Zevon, solo efforts from each member of The Beatles and James Taylor, who even pops up in the movie to both perform music and deliver a hilarious line or two.
Funny People is one of those rare films in which there isn’t a single false note, which is truly rare of me to say about comedies. Some will disagree with that statement, but I’ve seen the film four times now and my appreciation for it grows with each viewing. Judd Apatow has created his most personal film to date with remarkably written characters, amazing insight into the standup comedy scene, terrific performances by everyone in the cast and a story that’s insanely hilarious but also has a great deal of heart to it. This is one of the year’s very best films and, I think, Apatow’s signature masterpiece.
BONUS: In addition to James Taylor, we get several additional cameos including Eminem, Ray Romano, Paul Reiser, Norm MacDonald and Sarah Silverman.
Universal has done a most splendid job with this Blu-ray release. This is easily the best looking Judd Apatow film to date, due to the fact that he got no less than Janus Kaminzki (aka The Eye of Spielberg) to serve as cinematographer. The result is a fantastic looking comedy that looks even more so in the 1080p. You get nothing but a spectacularly crisp image with remarkable detail. Even the standup comedy bits, which you wouldn’t expect to get much out of, look phenomenal. A purely top-notch HD presentation in every aspect!
The DTS HD mix is put to most superb use here for what is basically a dialogue driven film. What does get standout treatment are the standup comedy scenes, with microphone delivery/audience noise, and sequences where music plays a big part, which are most frequent. Another proof that lossless audio can make a memorable experience of any movie, even ones without action of special effects!
This Universal Blu-ray comes fully loaded with 2 Discs of outstanding extras. Every Judd Apatow film is known to come loaded with features, and as a fan of this movie I’m extremely happy that it’s the one to contain the best lineup of extras yet. Disc One includes both the Theatrical and Extended versions of the film, as well as a commentary with Apatow, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen which is equally hilarious and insightful. We also get “Funny People Diaries”, which is an extensive behind the scenes look at the making of the film intercut with footage shot by Apatow himself, as well two sets of Gag Reels and the Apatow trademark feature, Line-O-Rama. There’s also the exclusive Blu-ray feature, U-Control, which here contains a “Funny People Music” track that lists the name of each song and artist as it plays in the film.
On Disc Two, we get even more great stuff, including Deleted Scenes, Extended & Alternate Scenes, three additional documentaries; “Raaaaaaaaandy!”, “Judd’s High School Radio Show” and “James Taylor: Behind the Scenes”, Additional Music bits with James Taylor, Adam Sandler and composer Jon Brion, a full performance by Sandler of the song “George Simmons Will Be Gone” and the RZA Podcast. Also included are extended stand up segments including “Funny People Live”, as well as bonus acts from Sandler, Rogen and fellow comedian Aziz Ansari (Randy). There’s also actual stand up footage from Apatow, Sandler and Rogen (when he was 13!) as well as various talk show appearances from Apatow and Sandler dating all the way back to the early 90s. There’s also “The Films of George Simmons”, Prank Calls from 1990 (featuring Sandler and all shot by Apatow), a segment from The Charlie Rose Show featuring Sandler and Apatow, a behind the scenes look at “Yo Teach!” (the Scwartzman character’s TV show), “Kids on the Loose: The Sequel” (featuring Judd’s two daughters Maude and Iris, an ADR Line-O-Rama, a montage titled “George in Love” and a Theatrical Trailer.
Funny People is a pure revelation of Judd Apatow as a filmmaker in the same way Annie Hall was for Woody Allen. It’s comedy with so many fantastic layers to it, and characters that you won’t want to stop spending time with. It’s a marvelous film, both funny and heartfelt, and one fantastic Blu-ray release as well! Highly recommended!!!!