Review of “Funny People” (2009)

FPAfter overcoming my initial misgivings about seeing a Judd Apatow movie, I took a leap of faith and went to see his latest film “Funny People” starring Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen. Typically, I enjoy Adam Sandler films and thought his presence would elevate the film out of the gutter-type humor that Apatow typically employs. Thus, imagine my horror once I realized that the Sandler was not the good guy of the film. He was the bad guy. No, this film was a showcase for Seth Rogen and he did an astounding job. Not only was Rogen funny, but he was rather a stand-up guy — both in a comedic and moral sense. Albeit, still a bit crude.

The premise of the film is Rogen is an average-Joe guy, Ira, working a part-time job at a deli counter and doing stand-up every chance he can in front of an open mic at the local comedy club. But his comedy routine is juvenile and unpolished. It is only after a chance meeting with Sandler’s character one night at the club that Ira’s prospects start to take a turn for the better.

Sandler plays George Simmons, a 40-plus comedian who has just found out that he is dying of a rare form of leukemia. After seeing potential in Ira’s written material at the comedy club, George takes Ira under wing as his assistant. Ira, anxious to learn from the best of the best, willingly takes the grunt job, which includes talking George to sleep every night and providing him jokes for him at a Myspace convention.

Watching Ira and George haphazardly bond as George’s health declines is particularly touching and real. But the film, not wanting to continue down its dark path, opts instead to have George miraculously overcome his disease in order to see what path he will choose after having stared down death. Alas, George has learned nothing from his second chance on life and proceeds to embrace his self-destructive, self-involved pursuits once again — must to the disgust and dismay of Ira.

Ira tries to be a buddy and friend to George and steer him away from temptation, but George is determined to do whatever he damn well pleases — even if it means breaking up the marriage of a former girlfriend. (In a nice cameo appearance, Eric Bana plays the cuckold husband of George’s old flame.)

Watching the tug-of-war between George and Ira, as each grappled with their conscience to try to be a better man, I was struck by how the smallest of choices can haunt a person. For that is the essence of this film: what will be the biggest regret of your life? For George, it was letting the woman of his dreams get away and realizing he could never get her back. For Ira, it was whether to pursue the woman he wanted after finding out that she slept with his roommate. It is all about the choices we make and whether we can live with them.

As a story, this film was fascinating. But in execution, it was a lot more unpleasant to watch. Sandler as the womanizing, morally ambiguous George was abrasive and appalling. Rogen, while more charming and chivalrous, had a foul mouth and even more filthy stand-up routine. Together, they were just downright disgusting.

So be forewarned, this is not a warm and fuzzy film. It may offend you on many levels — especially if you’re a woman. But in the film’s defense, Seth Rogen turned in one of the best performances of his career. He deserves kudos for that.

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