What is it with Judd Apatow and long comedy films? The 40-Year-Old Virgin was just under 2 hours, Knocked Up was just over 2 hours, and Funny People is nearly 150 minutes – doesn’t he know when to stop, or is he overcompensating? It’s too much time for a comedy film – I remember John Cleese saying that, when making the Monty Python films, they noticed that the test audiences would simply stop laughing around the 90-minute mark, even though the remaining material was funny, as if they had reached a saturation point. I think he may have a point …
I have to confess to mixed feelings towards Apatow’s work; there is some really funny stuff in there but the film as a whole never feels more than just ‘good’. I don’t know if it’s the love of improvisation – letting his actors keep going in a scene, trying to outdo each other instead of making the point and moving on – or the way that the films themselves feel like they keep on going past their natural endpoints. And I don’t get the huge love for Knocked Up, which at best is merely well rounded as a film, but feels completely false as a premise: attractive women gets pregnant by unattractive, overweight, aimless stoner on a one-night stand and then keeps the baby and stays with said loser. I know that Apatow believes it reflects his relationship with his wife, Aimee Mann, but it’s not the same thing at all, no matter how hard they try to persuade us. And there is something about the intonation of Seth Rogen’s delivery (no pun intended) that gets really tiring and irksome after a short while – the nasal whine grates on my ear.
So why did I go to see Funny People? Well, it sounded like it was more interesting – a famous comedian and film star (Adam Sandler as George Simmons) discovers he has terminal cancer and reappraises his life, with the help of Ira Wright (Rogen), an aspiring but unsuccessful stand-up. And the reappraisal of life and the inside look at the world of stand-up is interesting and funny (there’s a real feel of being an insider to this part of the film, and it’s interesting to note that Apatow and Sandler were roommates before becoming famous – there is even home video at the beginning of the film of Sandler doing prank calls from this time that Apatow filmed).
But then Apatow tries to cram everything into one film, and we have the pointless asides of Ira’s flatmates (Jason Schwartzman finding some success as the lead in a bog-standard sitcom, Jonah Hill’s jealousy of Ira’s luck) and then the final third of the film where George tries to reignite romance with an old flame (Mann), who is married with children to a loud and brash Australian (Eric Bana, who is wasted here). This section drags on and doesn’t really lead anywhere, making it seem even more pointless. This bloated nature suggests that this was two films crammed into one – either alone might have worked better.
It’s not all bad – there is a scene with well-known comedians (there are quite a few people appearing in this film as themselves) sitting around talking about life and cracking jokes that just made me smile due to the warmth and naturalness to it; I would love to see a film just about comedy and comedians and their lives. This film is almost there at times.