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Funny People
Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow team for possible Oscar contender.
Funny People
Adam Sandler Stars in "Funny People."
OPENING WEEKEND: $30,000,000
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $100,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

May 4th, 2009: George is a very successful stand up comedian who learns that he has an untreatable blood disorder and is given less than a year to live. Ira is a struggling up-and-coming stand up comedian who works at a deli and has yet to figure out his onstage persona. One night, these two perform at the same club and George takes notice of Ira. George hires Ira to be his semi-personal assistant as well as his friend.

What to Expect: When I started researching for this preview, I was having thoughts along the lines of Adam Sandler crawling to Judd Apatow hoping that some of the latter's magical money dust would rub off on him and resuscitate his flagging career. I soon abandoned this line of thought when I discovered, to my surprise, that Adam Sandler's career isn't actually flagging. I had this idea in my head that his movies have been flopping, which turns out not to be the case. In fact, seven of his last nine films have grossed over $100 million domestically, the two duds being "Spanglish" and "Reign Over Me," both of them departures from his "usual" mode of film. While the critics decry many of his films, unlike the Apatow films to which they are infinitely kinder, Sandler's films continue to attract audiences in pretty sizable numbers.

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And he likely didn't do any crawling whatsoever. Sandler and Apatow have been friends for many years, ever since they were roommates when they were both starting out. Sandler did a small role in Apatow's show "Undeclared" and Apatow co-wrote Sandler's film "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," so they're not new to each other. But "Funny People" is decidedly an Apatow film, not a Sandler film, and for Sandler, it'll be a novelty for him to star in a film that isn't one of "his kind" of films and which actually has a chance of getting people to come see it.

There's been some discussion about whether Judd Apatow is the John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) of this generation. The analogy has some merit. Hughes was extremely prolific, but even his output can't hold a candle to Apatow's body of work, which has encompassed fifteen projects since 2005 as director, writer or producer. "Funny People" will only be his third directorial effort (after "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up") but he's had involvement with many more films including "Pineapple Express," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," "Superbad" and most of the Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly films. Apatow, like Hughes, is amassing a recognizable stable of regular players including Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd. Like Hughes, Apatow is making realistic comedies about everyday things in life, starring Everypeople who stumble through their ordinary drama and manage to be hilarious at the same time. Apatow's often been cited as reviving the R-rated comedy. One could truthfully point out that Kevin Smith has been making R-rated comedies for over a decade, but the two styles have little in common. Smith's writing, while funny and clever, exists in a hyperverbal world of stylized geekdom, whereas Apatow's are grounded in the everyday. When you watch an Apatow comedy, you feel like half the characters are based on people you know. And, like Hughes, Apatow's films have a sometimes surprisingly emotional center to them.

In my opinion, one of the most underrated films of the 1980s is "Punchline," starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field (as love interests, which is weird considering she'd later play his mother in "Forrest Gump"). It's a funny yet dramatic and touching film about stand-up comedians and their screwed-up lives offstage, and the suburban housewife who wants nothing more than to become one of them. "Funny People" feels like a similar animal. It's the story of George Simmons (Sandler), an A-list comic and movie star, who learns he has cancer and has six months to live. He adopts as his protege a struggling comic (Seth Rogen) who becomes his confidant, and gets back in touch with the woman who got away (Leslie Mann). But when Simmons beats his cancer, he finds that he has a new lease on life. On paper that sounds... kinda corny. But the advance buzz from people who've seen this film couldn't really be stronger. One reviewer said that with this film, Apatow has reached James L. Brooks levels of human comedy. Film critics are speculating that Apatow's taking his films a step further, mixing his raunchy comedy with real drama. Another viewer said that Apatow is the new Woody Allen, and this is his "Annie Hall." I'm not much of an Allen fan myself, so I can't comment on that, but it's a hell of an endorsement. There's even very early Oscar talk being bandied about.

The film is certainly chock full of comedy royalty. Aside from the trio of stars I just mentioned, there's the requisite Jonah Hill as one of Rogen's roommates, and Jason Schwartzman as the other. Maybe he's also an emissary from the Wes Anderson stable. Imagine the marriage of those film companies. Let's get the Wilson brothers and Bill Murray in here! Then we have Eric Bana, who is everywhere this summer with his role in "Star Trek" and August's "The Time Traveler's Wife." I wonder if he signed on after Rogen's "Knocked Up" speech crediting his performance in "Munich" for getting Jewish men laid. Regardless, he gets to sport his native Australian accent for once.

But what I'm hearing is that we may have a new, up-and-coming comedy star emerging from this film, and his name is Aziz Ansari.


Okay. Because the film is about comedians, Apatow wanted footage of comedy performances, so he rounded up a whole bunch of real comedians, some of whom are playing characters but a number of whom are playing themselves, including Sarah Silverman, Norm MacDonald, Andy Dick and Dave Attell. He paid a whole audience at the Orpheum Theater (which is where American Idol is shot, incidentally) to listen to three and a half hours of stand-up comedy from the film's stars and from these established names. By many accounts I've seen from audience members at that show, Ansari ("Human Giant"), playing a young comic named Randy, absolutely stole the show. I looked up a few of his clips on YouTube and frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about, but I'll reserve judgment. I didn't see what he did during the taping, after all.

This film feels like it could be more personal. Apatow's not one for separating his personal life and his work life. His wife, Leslie Mann, who is hilarious in her own right (that French toast line in "40-Year-Old Virgin" gets me every damn time) has appeared in all the films he's directed, and this time she's the out-and-out romantic lead, steadily upgrading from bit part in "Virgin" and secondary lead in "Knocked Up." His and Mann's two daughters play Mann's daughters, as they did in "Knocked Up." The film opens with grainy home movie footage of a 20-year-old Sandler making prank phone calls, footage that was actually filmed by Apatow himself when they were roommates. The mentorship aspect of the story, in which Sandler's character helps Rogen's career, is said to be inspired by Apatow's relationship with Garry Shandling.

Then there's Adam Sandler. Let's not forget what he brings to the table. Whether you're a fan or not of the Sandleresque comedies (I'm in the "not" category), they've been successful, but every time Sandler has demonstrated that he's capable of more, as in the often-cited "Punch Drunk Love" and the more recent "Reign Over Me," it's met with a chilly reception at the box office. This film is not Sandleresque. He's not playing a dim-witted manchild who lucks into circumstances and saves the day in spite of his own ineptitude. He's playing a man who is serious about funny, much like Sandler himself must be to have had the success he's had, and a man who's facing mortality. This would seem to be more along the lines of the past roles of his that have been dismal failures. And yet he's hitched his wagon to the Apatow engine this time, which could very well be enough to get people to actually come and see Sandler being more serious.

But let's not forget that this is still a comedy. If past experience means anything it will be funny, and it will be raunchy, but it will also be serious, and it will also be emotional. That's a difficult balance to strike. James L. Brooks is one of the masters, and the fact that Apatow's being compared to him now is significant.

In Conclusion: The fact that Adam Sandler's joining the Apatow posse (officially, that is) may mean that he's ready for people to take him a little more seriously and has decided that an Apatow film is a way to do that in a film that people will actually come and see. As for Apatow, he seems to be taking his first steps into more serious dramedy territory, the kind that the little gold statues sometimes visit. Advance buzz is very strong, and with a killer cast and some great stand-up, it's hard to see how this one can miss.

Similar Titles: Punch-Drunk Love, Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin
July 31st, 2009 (wide)

Universal Pictures

Judd Apatow

Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, RZA, Aubrey Plaza, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Aziz Ansari

Total: 45 vote(s).

Comedy, Drama

Click here to view site

Rated R for language and crude sexual humor throughout, and some sexuality.

136 min





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