‘Funny People’ crude, sentimental and … funny

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 30, 2009 5:21pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

As a movie producer and writer, Judd Apatow’s hot streak has not only been profitable but amazingly prolific. His corner of the market is a neighborhood unto itself, populated by a familiar cast of actors sorting through issues facing manboys, fanboys and other arrested adolescents.

Appreciating these movies involves a minimum of guilt, because pictures such as “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express” and “Talledega Nights” are raucously, rudely enjoyable.

His actual outings in the director’s chair have been rarer: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” Those were so successful it was easy to overlook how many peculiar diversions and indulgences they had.

His new film as director, “Funny People,” is even odder. Like it or lose patience with it, this film can’t be accused of committee thinking.

It’s almost two different movies laid out end-to-end. In the first one, wildly successful movie comedian George Simmons, played by Adam Sandler, is diagnosed with a fatal illness. His new joke-writer, Ira, played by Seth Rogen, helps George sort through his lavish but empty existence.

This half of the movie is full of inside-comedy material (both men are seen plying the stand-up trade), with supporting roles for Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill as Ira’s roommates (Schwartzman’s character has lucked into a lead role in a terrible sitcom called “Yo, Teach!”, so he supports the other two).

In the second half, George and Ira travel to Marin County to visit George’s ex, Laura, played by Leslie Mann, now married to Eric Bana, who is amusing and fully committed as her Australian husband. This feels like it should be the second act of the film, but then it keeps going on and on, as complications pile atop each other.

Throughout all this — which, if you haven’t guessed yet, is a mix of comedy and drama — Apatow maintains his familiar obsessions, which tend to revolve inexhaustibly around male genitalia. I’m not sure whether Apatow has this focus because he knows it appeals to his loyal audience, or because he really is a giant third-grader.

That loyal audience will be tested by “Funny People,” which stretches out to 146 minutes and has a central character who is not a nice person. Sandler, using his “Spanglish” tools, is fine in the role, and embraces the fact that George Simmons’ movies look every bit as moronic as many of Adam Sandler’s films.

His character is balanced by Rogen at his puppy-doggiest. And let it be known that Apatow loves his family: not only does he cast his wife Leslie Mann (more than deserving of the attention) and two daughters in important roles, he even includes a clip of one daughter singing at a talent contest.

Indulgent? Yes. But I was mostly taken with this bizarre blend of sentiment and crudity. It doesn’t really come off, but it is a movie by, and with, funny people.

“Funny People”

A wildly uneven comedy-drama from Judd Apatow, about a movie star (Adam Sandler) with a fatal illness, and the assistant (Seth Rogen) he kicks around with. Apatow does whatever he wants and the movie is indulgent, but it’s full of funny, raunchy stuff, even if it goes on too long.

Rated: R for language, nudity, subject matter

Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Metro, Pacific Place, Uptown, Woodinville and Cascade Mall.

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