Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Funny People Review

Funny People
The Review
(Spoiler Alert)

I saw Funny People last night and I loved it. After reading a few reviews after seeing it, I've noticed it's quite a polarizing film. And not the typical generational polarization with the square older population not getting the humor of the edgy youth. No, either you got this film as a whole, or you didn't. It wasn't about understanding the humor, or being offended by the production quality. Critics say it ran too long, it made a point that wasn't there, or even that it was poorly directed. First I will say what I liked about this movie, and then I will address the overarching theme argument that several critics have used to attack the film.

First off, there is the Larry David-esque blurry line between fiction and reality. I'm sorry, before I start crediting David with this, allow me to honor the true originator of this type of comedy, Gary Shandling. Anyway, like Larry Sanders or the fictional Larry David, Adam Sandler's George Simmons was playing the part of a fictional Adam Sandler. From the campy, but wildly successful feature list, to the juvenile but original brand of humor, Simmons was playing Sandler. Throwing in old clips of Sandler doing prank calls, stand-up, even an old spot on Conan (obviously as Adam Sandler), blurred this line even more and made for an incredibly unique character. It was as if we knew the character's background without any development. Added to which, we (the audience) immediately felt somewhat of a personal connection to Simmons, not because of any creative and effective writing of the character, but because we grew up watching him. Sandler has always been a part of our lives, hence Simmons was. And Apatow pulled this off BRILLIANTLY, by interweaving the aforementioned early Sandler stuff in with fictional but mildly familiar films that Simmons had created.

On top of this, was the beautifully drawn out world of showbusiness. The comedians being themselves, the backstage stuff, the celebrity cameos which felt less forced than any I can remember—these things were executed brilliantly. Ray Romano, Paul Reiser, Eminem, and Andy Dick were playing themselves, interacting with a fictional character. The stand-up stuff was pulled off just as brilliantly as tension, nerves, and a silly subculture was presented as accurately as I've seen before. I loved this.

Then there's the stuff that maybe I like because I live in LA. There are certain things—Entourage, Californication, Shop Girl, 500 Days of Summer—that I'm not sure I would love so much if I lived in Ohio. I DON'T know…maybe I would, maybe I wouldn't. But this movie was chock-full of that stuff. The guys' apartment at Larchmont and Melrose. Their relationship. Jason Shwartzman's half-success on his show was perfect. We all know these people—we all deal with them—they're not bad guys, they're just EXACTLY like that. Then there's the recognizable places like The WeHo Palm, Runyon Canyon, and Malibu that I feel some love for because I've been there. This isn't that first movie to get being mid- to late 20s in LA right, but it was one of the best. All of the younger characters—Shwartzman, Rogen, Hill, the girl, even the people at Thanksgiving—were reminiscent of people we know. Loved it.

The soundtrack was perfect. James Taylor, John Lennon, and then, during the resolution, while Rogen and his love interest sit on top of a peak in the Eastern Santa Monicas listening to Wilco's Jesus Etc., I just about lost it. Probably my favorite song ever being played over one of my favorite hidden secrets about living in LA. I couldn't imagine a scene more powerful…to me.

OK, now the themes. To me, and maybe I'm wrong, this movie showed how the late-twenties struggling comedian's romance with fame and success is much closer, but also much less desirable than he might know. I'm not talking about the "I don't have any friends," or "no woman ever really loves me," themes that are illustrated, and necessary. I'm referring more to the idea of what success actually means. At the beginning of the film, Rogen asks Sandler to help HIM write. Sandler lets him know that that's not how this relationship works. The payer does not do the writing.

But throughout the movie we learn how close these two characters (both representing larger clumps of people) actually are. Sandler (or Simmons) the ultra-celebrity gets terminally ill. The aura of invincibility is shed moments after the opening titles. They work the same tours, clubs, and crowds. Rogen's ability to converse with the older, successful celebrity crowd shows that the fame that they all have in common is not the only thing that can bind these people together. Simmons, despite hordes of money and women, is ultimately rejected by his true love and is more affected by that, then he was of the news that he would die. This rejection, played against Rogen's triumph to the tune of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot shows the dichotomy of the two characters again.

If Apatow is trying to make a statement in this film, it was, at least to me, that celebrity is merely one measure of success. To me, the final scene, in which Simmons visits Rogen at the deli in which is working to give him jokes that he in fact wrote for him, is poignant in that it shows that Simmons views the two as equals, despite his giant Malibu house and Rogen's deli job alongside an awesome ex-con played by the RZA.

Sure, the third act ran long, the overdeveloping of both Leslie Mann and Eric Bana's characters killed a lot of the momentum, and the overarching themes may have been lost amongst the conflict/resolution of other smaller themes, but stepping back—I think Apatow did a great job with an incredibly original and unique approach to celebrity.
I'll like any post-modern attacks on reality, so I am an easy target, but Funny People had me cracking up and thinking about life in LA as something more than it probably is. But at the end of the day, I think that's the point of this film.

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