Review: Funny People (2009)
Funny People is the best drama about comedians I've seen, though I've also liked Punchline and Broadway Danny Rose, which both sort of qualify. It's funny without ruining the touching emotional parts and touchingly emotional without being mawkish, shallow or in a hurry to get to the next laugh.
It's not a spoiler to say that in the first few moments of the film, Adam Sandler's character, George Simmons, a successful actor/comedian not unlike Sandler himself, is diagnosed with leukemia, with a grim prognosis. He starts an experimental medication course and starts surveying his life, trying to figure out his next moves.
During a stand-up routine at a comedy club, he bombs, can't connect with the audience, and is even a bit depressing. The next stand-up onstage is Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), who comments on Simmons's routine in a funny but insulting way. Simmons responds by hiring Wright to be his ghostwriter, assistant and essentially only friend, a big career move for Wright.
The real love story of the film is between Simmons and Wright, as Wright is swept along into his glamorous but predicted-not-to-last life. They get to know each other and learn a lot about each other and themselves as they work together.
This also intertwines with and complements subplots between Ira and his comedian/actor roommates Leo (Jonah Hill, very funny) and Mark (Jason Schwartzman, also very funny), who have moved at least one rung up the show-biz ladder farther than Ira, and a new girl in Ira's life, Daisy (Aubrey Plaza, deadpan but fun).
The secondary love story is pretty good too, between Simmons and his first love, Laura (Leslie Mann, quite good, and incidentally director Judd Apatow's wife and the mother of their two children, who play Laura's children). When she finds out that Simmons is sick, she reveals that she considers him the love of her life, and is in an unhappy marriage with Australian Clarke (Eric Bana, good without full-face makeup).
Director Judd Apatow is an old friend of Adam Sandler's, and he uses this fact, and the fact that Sandler's been all over the media for a long time, to construct some very funny and meaningful background footage for Sandler's character, George Simmons. In addition to old footage, new footage of ridiculous films Simmons has made appears as well, and lots of this is hysterical, in itself and as a comment on Sandler's own absurdist and up-and-down movie career.
The movie has perfect rhythm between the dialogue and the editing, nothing is included that isn't necessary and nothing stalls or moves things off track. The soundtrack is amazing, too, with no Beatles songs, but songs from each of the Beatles post-group, and notable contributions from Jason Schwartzman and the late great Warren Zevon.
I've been saying it a lot lately, what with Year One, Moon, Public Enemies, The Hurt Locker and Soul Power all out, but Funny People is a perfect film. It's Sandler's best acting since Punch-Drunk Love, and he's a pretty good actor. You might cry or tear up, you'll definitely laugh and keep thinking about it.
The Magic of the Movies
P.S. I added some "Vote Kerry" t-shirts like Ira Wright wears in the movie, just click on the design to visit the store: