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Review: Judd Apatow’s Funny People

Who doesn’t envy the pants off Judd Apatow? This prolific writer of funny stories gets to hang out with some of the coolest comedians of our time, make successful big budget movies and even cast his wife and daughters. It’s like he has got the world in the palm of his hand. But at 2 hours and 20 minutes, his latest film Funny People also has some people shifting in their seats. Sure it’s funny, we could smell our neighbor’s breath he was cackling so hard. But it’s also a little too long and a little too light on the tragedy ingredient.

This is after all the story of a man George Simmons (Adam Sandler) who’s told he’s dying. He is rich, successful and so lonely it’s pathetic. In his desperation, he calls a comedian he has barely met Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) and invites him to a MySpace corporate party (unabashed product placement reigns throughout). The dramedy unfolds.

Apatow actually roomed with Adam Sandler pre-fame. In the opening scenes of the film we see archival footage of them in their early ’20s pranking restaurants. (Forget the Jerky Boys, Adam and Judd are eat your heart out hilarious.) They’d been wanting to make movie together. Judd looked in his notebook and decided to combine three ideas: what happens when you are told you are dying, chasing down an old flame and the anger necessary for good stand-up comedy.

This muddled storyline is both the film’s strength and weakness. Apatow admirably attempts to push the boundaries of his art (or as Variety’s Todd McCarthy says, “Candid but long-winded, well observed but undisciplined, Funny People feels like Judd Apatow’s diploma picture marking his move from high school to college as a filmmaker.”), but he proves he has a ways to go.

Most of the characters in the movie have faux websites that are very funny (Yo Teach!, George Simmons, Mark Taylor Johnson). Perhaps more time should have been spent massaging the third act of this film, and less time worrying about the meta marketing. Or as The Hollywood Reporter puts it, and we’re paraphrasing here, once George gets better, the film begins to suck. We wanted Funny People to go darker, to heighten the tragedy, to deliver some Schadenfreude, and reveal the vulnerability driving most comedians — but it looks like Apatow isn’t ready to go there yet.

Or maybe the New Yorker‘s David Denby has it right (he was talking about the movie, but he might as well be talking about its creator): “The meaning of Funny People is that a comic can’t be saved by anyone, not even himself. There is only the next joke.”

Watch the trailer now; Funny People opens in theaters nationwide this Friday.

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