A lot of people will try to tell you that Judd Apatow is a comedic genius and one of the best screenwriters working today. To back this up, you have examples like KNOCKED UP and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN. Both of those are great movies, but when I think of Apatow, I can’t help but think of his complete body of work, which includes such clunkers as FUN WITH DICK AND JANE and YOU DON’T MESS WITH THE ZOHAN, not to mention the countless lackluster comedies he’s produced (see YEAR ONE). So any time I hear about Apatow being involved with a film, I go into it with cautious optimism.
Which brings us to FUNNY PEOPLE, which was a mess of a movie in which no one knew what they wanted to say or who they wanted to be. On one hand, it was a heartfelt film about a man realizing money can’t buy happiness and on the other, it was a nonsensical film without any character growth. While watching it, you can tell that everyone involved (Sandler, Rogen, Apatow, Mann) have the talent to pull off just about everything, but a series of bad choices and even worse direction led to a severely disappointing film.
Adam Sandler is George Simmons, a beloved comedian that just found out he’s dying from a rare disease. While going back to his standup comedy roots, he meets Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a comedian just starting out and trying to catch his big break. George decides that Ira would make a good companion and hires him to write jokes for him. Ira pushes George to reach out to old friends and when he does, he rekindles an old romance, Laura (Leslie Mann). Around this time, George is given the good news that he’s not going to die and that the illness has miraculously regressed.
At this point in the film, we should either be ending the movie on a high note and wrapping up the supporting character arcs. But Apatow decides to continue the film and adds a whole story between George, Laura and Laura’s husband (Eric Bana, outshining all of his costars). I could have accepted this new storyline, but not at the sacrifice of everything else going on in the story. Not only that, but we had seen a nice character progression of George Simmons and then everything was abandoned, thus negating the importance of the first half of the film. In all of Apatow’s previous efforts, the characters and their “realism” really resonated with the audience. But in FUNNY PEOPLE, he created characters that we not only didn’t like, but that we couldn’t connect to.
Apatow also set his actors up for failure by making some very poor choices with his directing. In the scene where George and Laura meet at George’s house, Apatow chooses the worst possible angles to film Leslie Mann. It was supposed to be a powerful scene, but the awkwardness from the angle and directing made it unnatural and forced. Again, this is something that Apatow was good at in his first couple of films, but couldn’t recreate in this one.
There was a good movie somewhere in the editing room, Apatow just couldn’t find it. I hate to say this, but I think the movie would have been much better if they had either a) let George die or b) end the movie with him getting better. As soon as they added the love triangle, the film tanked and lost what credibility it had. Apatow has proven he can write a great movie, but don’t use this film as an example of what he can do well.