With "40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," writer/director Judd Apatow created a special comedic identity that combined slacker geek sentimentality with crude, winding improvisational stings. It suited him well at the box office, but "Funny People" bravely detaches from Apatow's comfort zone, though in a crafty manner that perhaps doesn't provide an intensive genre-shifting challenge for the filmmaker. However, there's just enough of a shove into uncharted waters of callous behavior to maintain an intriguing bite to the essential rolls of laughter.
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a stand-up comic who's made it to the big time, becoming a worldwide celebrity through a battery of box office smashes and stage dominance. Diagnosed with a rare blood disease, George is left to contemplate his lonely existence, looking back on ex-girlfriend Laura (Leslie Mann) as a major point of unfinished business in his life. Stumbling upon Ira (Seth Rogen, doing a delightful take on starry-eyed surprise), a struggling stand-up, George finds a makeshift comedic soul mate, taking the inexperienced funny man into his life for jokes and companionship. Still holding onto medical hope, George decides to seek out Laura and sever her seemingly unhappy marriage to Aussie bully Clarke (Eric Bana), while Ira stands in firm protest, but unable to challenge his boss and unwilling to torpedo his amazing show business education.
There's a filmmaking maturation going on for Apatow during "Funny People" that showcases the director looking toward the work of James L. Brooks for inspiration, a man who always treads the fine line between comedy and heartache. In pursuit of his lofty tonal goals, Apatow retreats to his past life as a stand-up comic for support, setting "Funny People" in this world of egos, competition, and anxiety. The insight is outstanding; the picture excels at a lived-in mood of tentative steps between jealous colleagues vying for the spotlight. Instead of a parade of cuddly man-child characters, the feature is populated with the likes of George: a burnt, spent man who wields his power of fame knowingly and selfishly.
Apatow is intrigued with George's anesthetized humanity, and how the man who has everything at his fingertips approaches the finality of death. It's a stunning performance from Sandler (no doubt drawing from his own experience), who imparts George with captivating flavors of bitterness, shame, and work-the-room charm to create a vividly three-dimensional character, avoiding easy answers and certainly swatting down a proper Hollywood arc of redemption. Perhaps this is where "Funny People" might confuse those expecting traditional (and superb) Apatow comfort food. George is a bastard. While he reaches a summit of personal potential, he remains this hardened creature of self-centeredness, emerging from a knowing screenplay that grasps the soul of a comedian and the gig's destructive tendencies. It's a tremendously complex characterization that extends to the supporting cast, who are there to assist with the hoots, but take a few potent moments of discord for themselves.
"Funny People" isn't precious and its luxurious 145 minute running time just flies by. Thankfully, there's a bundle of laughs to help ease into the hazy psychological discomfort, with the entire cast getting in their fair share of punch lines, including amusing supporting work from Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill, and Aubrey Plaza. It's wonderful to watch the cast interact so fluidly, yet committed to an awkward sense of detachment that plagues the vocation. "Funny People" nails some priceless clumsy moments through improvs and situational uneasiness, but it's never a sitcom. Apatow finds reality as much as possible, though he indulges his mischievous sense of humor here and there, always to uproarious results.
The film is divided into three distinct acts, giving Apatow some air to suitably build a tangled web of urgency for George and Ira. The first act introduces the relationship between the comics and feels out the death sentence for George; the screenplay hitting bittersweet notes of remorse and frustration for the character. Act two brings George back to Laura's arms, where the comic perceives personal salvation through forgiveness, rekindling a romance that never received its proper closure. It's a lengthy detour, but one that further accentuates George's self-serving attitude and muddled vision of accomplishment. The last act has Apatow searching for an opening to tie dangling plot threads together, but it's rushed and condensed, taking the knots out of the storyline too swiftly, grinding uncomfortably against the rest of the picture's leisurely stroll. Apatow wants to get these characters to a lightning-strike place of realization, but the page is missing fitting motivations, closing "Funny People" on a frustratingly curt note.
"Funny People" is presented here in both a Theatrical Cut (145:59) and an Unrated version (152:34). Like every previous Apatow home entertainment extension, the additions tend to slow down the pace of the film. Here, most of the filler seems to emerge from the stand-up sequences. Humorous as they are, more of this movie that isn't extensive character addition isn't a good idea.
Boasting an AVC encoded image (1.85:1 aspect ratio), the BD has some delicate cinematography to figure out, with a careful lighting scheme that produces hazy, golden images to replicate a west coast fantasyland. The image is never pin-sharp, but the Blu-ray features a nice fine grain quality that allows for a film-like experience. Some shadow detail is lost in low-light sequences, but the rest of the presentation is effective. Colors are lush and evocative, best when drinking in the opulence of George's lifestyle, with its amazing blues and greens. Detail is fairly strong, showing off the needed wrinkles and reactions, but the image is hesitant, which seems to be the intention.
The DTS-HD 5.1 sound mix for "Funny People" is a solid effort, highlighting wonderful atmospherics for nightclub and concert sequences, giving the listener an amazing you-are-there experience. Front row seats for little to no effort. Soundtrack selections also contain a superb circular feel, giving the mix a sparkling intimacy. As with anything Apatow, dialogue is king, with the exchanges cleanly reproduced with no outside interference. Scoring is soft, adding warmth to the mood, making up for the lack of a sizable low-end punch to the listening event.
English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are included.
A feature-length audio commentary with writer/director Judd Apatow and stars Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen is pretty much what one would expect from a conversational track with three comedians. It's up to Apatow to keep the banter on track for the duration of the commentary, and in-between the wisecracks, the filmmaker is able to rattle off some production tidbits and recollections of specific challenges. Sandler (who seems a little bored) and Rogen (who's very into the process) are in charge of the jokes, batting around Apatow with one-liners and goofy stories, which the filmmaker playfully encourages. One of the largest revelations to emerge from the track is how much Jonah Hill hated the kitten YouTube video his character makes to create an online presence. Seems Hill loathed the idea, which ended up one of the biggest laughs of the movie. Also of interest is the chance to hear Apatow and Sandler recall their stand-up glory days in Los Angeles.
"'Funny People' Diaries" (75:06) is a stupendous documentary on the making of the motion picture, besting the commentary for sheer informational magnitude. Divided up into chapters labeled "The Premise," "The Set Up," "The Punchline," and "The Button," nearly every step of the "Funny People" production is underlined here, in the guise of an Apatow video diary. From stand-up rehearsals to the shoot to the premiere, it's all covered in thrilling detail. The documentary is wholeheartedly entertaining to watch, but it also provides that rare feeling of education, watching the filmmaker pull together a personal film with his friends, hoping to share his enthusiasm for family and comedy with a wide audience. This is a must-see supplement.
"Line-O-Rama" (10:39) brings back an Apatow favorite, permitting the actors to work through the improvisational skills, contributing solid riffing ideas for nearly each and every scene.
"Gag Reel" (11:13) reveals the numerous mix-em-ups that occurred while filming "Funny People." Watching Sandler and Rogen crack each other up is highly amusing.
"Deleted Scenes" (48:24) observe George checking in with old friends via phone; follows Ira as he prepares for his boss's death; showcases prank calls made by George to keep his comic spirit alive; studies comedy theory with Brian Posehn; takes in George and Ira's road trip; offers more Randy; introduces us to Ira's bitter family; and spends more domestic time with George and Laura.
"Alternate Scenes" (66:19) permits further time with the old-school comics; gives Sarah Silverman a chance to bust out some vagina jokes while Norm MacDonald and Dave Attell struggle with gallows humor; dishes up an extended bar scene with additional celebrity neuroses; and shows George at the end of his rope while filming a hot dog eating contest movie.
"From the Archives" (27:14) assembles a look at Sandler and Apatow during their first few years as professional comedians, appearing on Letterman, Dennis Miller's old talk show, and "The Midnight Hour with Bill Maher." Man, these guys were young. There's also footage of a 13-year-old Seth Rogen wowing crowds with his awful stand-up comedy. The video quality is pretty rough, but the material is amazing.
"The Films of George Simmons" (6:45) presents a highlight reel of the star's finest screen moments, from such films as "Merman" and "Re-Do." Seriously, these goofy snippets could pass for a real movie the way the family film market is today. National treasure Ken Jeong appears briefly.
"Prank Calls 1990" (18:23) showcase extended footage from the opening of the film, where Sandler spent hours entertaining himself and friends with fake phone calls and silly voices. It's a wonderful time capsule of the star during the hungry years.
"Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow on 'The Charlie Rose Show'" (56:54) have our stars sitting down with the legendary talk show host, offering an hour of riveting television that reveals more about the film and its cast than the commentary does.
"Yo Teach" (21:16) combines a BTS featurette on the making of this faux show with a few episode clips. Highly produced (there's no reason this show isn't on the Disney Channel right now), the final product is impressive, considering how little it factors into the final cut of the film.
"Documentaries" (21:32) spotlights Aziz Ansari as loathsome comic Randy, A high school radio program where Apatow interviewed his stand-up heroes, and James Taylor working some BTS magic as he wows the cast and crew with songs and a surprising sense of humor.
"Music" (49:59) offers a short set from James Taylor, Adam and Jon Brion jamming in-character, George at the Improv, and the RZA's on-set podcast, which seems more comedic than musical.
"Kids on the Loose: The Sequel" (5:06) focuses on the impossible task of directing children, with Apatow having a devil of a time keeping his two daughters alert for the cameras.
"Stand Up" (63:04) offers a Comedy Central special where the cast discusses their stand-up difficulties and fears, with plenty of film clips and performance footage from the "'Funny People' Live!" event (David Spade steals the show). Some in-character stand-up is also included, pulled from a MySpace corporate gig scene in the film.
"ADR Line-O-Rama" (2:50) continues the spontaneous route, only here the emphasis is on the post-production recording process, where the cast is allowed to insert multiple jokes in the quite corners of the editing.
"George in Love" (2:04) is a montage of our hero in the midst of having sex with two of his groupies. More improvisation and laughter ensues.
And a Theatrical Trailer is included.
It's not a head-snapping change of pace for Judd Apatow, yet "Funny People" is far more acidic and remorseless than anything he's attempted before. It's a terrific motion picture, with keen insight into the mind of the stand-up comic at his most game, blistered, and vulnerable, while remaining true to the spirit of solitude the occupation all but demands.