I’ll just come out and admit I’m not entirely sure what Funny People, the third film directed by Judd Apatow, is about. That’s not to say it’s neccesarily ambiguous – the story is very clear-cut, if more freeform than one expects from the megaplex these days. But there’s not one clear story-line that the movie focuses from beginning to end, and there’s no real climax. A wide assortment of stuff goes on in here, but it’s not made clear what it’s all supposed to add up to.
Having said all that, I freely admit that I loved Funny People, and that Apatow is now three for three. This movie only makes it clearer – he’s not just one of the best comedy filmmakers around, he’s just one of the best filmmakers around.
The film starts around Seth Rogen’s Ira, a struggling stand-up comic that has to work at the grocery store to afford rent that he never pays (thankfully, his more successful roommates foot the bill.)
On the other end, there’s Adam Sandler playing as a fictional comedian/actor named George Simmons – a character whose career is practically identical to Sandler’s own. Alone and newly diagnosed with leukemia, his only real friend is the Stand-Up circuit. One night after performing he meets, and almost runs over, Ira, and goes on to make him his assistant / joke writer / best friend.
There are subplots-galore, including two love stories and one severely shitty sitcom, but that’s most of what can be said about Funny People‘s main plot. Plenty of people who would say that’s not enough for a movie, and not totally unjusifiably; but they’d be wrong in this case because Funny People is less about plot than its, uh, people.
Sure, every film is, at its core, about its characters; but the personalities of Funny People clearly have more to do with the overall film than in most other movies. The film is clearly, principally about watching George and Ira, looking at how they change when a diagnoses and a new friend are brought into their lives.
Apatow’s writing for these characters is excellent, but its the actors that make them characters you enjoy watching for two-and-a-half hours. We’ve all known that Sandler can get his shit together when he wants to, and you might not be surprised to see that he pulls it off again. Perhaps more surprising is Rogen, an actor that many (including myself) have been kind of unsure of. But he’s really good as the timid Ira, without ever appearing to be the typical Seth Rogen character.
And the supporting cast – which is pretty sizable – doesn’t disappoint either. Special props go to Eric Bana as a douchebag-turned-kinda-sweetheart, and Aubrey Plaza, an actress that I’d never heard of before but already have a sizable crush on, thanks to her turn as a Ã¼ber-sarcastic comedian.
As easy as it is to praise Apatow, these actors are the ones that make Funny People the supremely enjoyable film it is, just by giving us people we’d love to hang out with for a hundred and fifty minutes.