Thursday, 3 September 2009
REVIEW: Funny People
Its hard to know what to make of this, which would be 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up director Judd Apatow's shot at mainstream critical respect, maybe even the Oscars. And in doing so he may have made his worst movie yet. But the thing is that its a film I really don't want to criticize with too much venom, because for all its faults it desperately tries to be something. It has ambition certainly, with something to say on the pitfalls of fame and even has an honest shot at saying something about humanity. The problem is the film certainly isn't funny, or at least not as funny as his previous films have been. And for a film set in the world of comedy about a comedian by the most successful comedy director of the last decade this is a pretty unforgivable oversight. And yes its a a different kind of movie with a more serious tone, but believe me it tried to have the best of both worlds, comedically and dramatically speaking, but ended up with neither. Sometimes if you shoot above your station it pays off in boatloads, but other times it blows up in your face. And that's sort of what happened here.
The film's widespread negative critical and public response from the US is certainly interesting. Apatow was in a position of great strength when it came to sheer numbers, but they turned on him. Why, well in a way he turned his back on his most common viewer, which is essentially the character Seth Rogen plays in all his movies. The loutish, under-achieving late twenty/early thirty something. He gave the a voice, and they paid him back in tickets, but the thing is Apatow went after a more mature audience here, and his old fanbase got left out in the cold and in turn they left him out in the cold in terms of box office. The lesson here? Creative growth as a film-maker will leave you fucked with nowhere to go.
The film itself has a few things going for it, but probably more going in the opposite direction. There's a very good central performance from Adam Sandler, proving to those who haven't seen Punch Drunk Love that he is actually is capable of good acting when he's not making I now pronounce you Chuck and Larry. He captures the darkness of the character very well, and the first half of the film where this is the focal point of the film's attention is definitely the stronger, before it detours quite detrimentally into Sandler chasing an ex-girlfriend in spite of her husband and kids. And at this point I should mention that this film is obscenely long for what it is, it felt longer then it is and it's pretty fucking long at 146 minutes. That's just short of two hours and a half for the less mathematically inclined. Aside from Sandler there isn't a great performance here really. I enjoyed Eric Bana's Clark, who is for all intents and purposes an Australian stereotype, but Bana is funny and that's good to see given how underwhelming he has been of late. Jason Schwartzman is amusing as a sitcom star and Jonah Hill does what he does in all Apatow movies. Its probably the weakest Seth Rogen performance I've seen yet and Leslie Mann hits the wrong side of shrill for a character who was very important to the back half of this movie.
Its ambitious that Apatow went after a movie that did more then just make us laugh, but this has got to go down as an admirable failure. All good intention and not enough end product.