Movie Review: “Funny People”

Last week, I made the off-kilter decision to purchase a large movie lot. As a consequence of my decision, I now find myself 137 movies richer. I had a wide-range of films included in the batch, which if you’re at all curious in, you can read me talk about here. All in all, I was satisfied with the purchase and I do see myself doing it again someday soon. The only caveat is, in-order to justify such an expenditure, I need to actually watch and review the films I have bought.

Funny People is a film I have wanted to talk about for years on, but I have never been able to make the stars align well enough to do it.

Even now, as I write about the film, I am way behind on a lot of other films I need to review and I risk having them fall to the wayside until I can re-watch them again and recollect what I thought of them.

Neither Judd Apatow nor Adam Sandler are artists who will appear very much amongst my favorites – neither are mainstays for the Black Deck exactly.

Apatow, for the most part, is a capable comedic director. I may not identify him as a heavy-hitter exactly, but with films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The King of Staten Island, Knocked Up, and This is 40, Apatow has made a name for himself as a solid hand for the genre.

Adam Sandler is an actor I have been exposed to a lot. I have seen dozens of the man’s movies and, frankly, still hold a lot of nostalgia for him. In retrospect, his films usually weren’t very good. In fact, a lot of them were godawful. However, I still watched them and found enjoyment in his late-90s, early-2000s fare.

For awhile, I lost a lot of faith in him – films like Grown Ups and Jack and Jill show exactly the worst of what the Sandman is capable of.

It was through more dramatic turns, like the fantastic Uncut Gems, that audiences were shown that Adam Sandler is capable of being a great actor when he tries to be.

What makes Funny People so special though, and what makes me love it as much as I do, is that it isn’t an Uncut Gems or a Reign Over Me film. It isn’t Adam Sandler stepping out of his comfort-zone, at least, not exactly.

This is one of the most Adam Sandler-iest films around. In some ways, I think you could even call Funny People the ultimate Adam Sandler film.

In Funny People, Adam Sandler plays a comedian who is now face-to-face with his own mortality, staring down the business end of his own demise. After being diagnosed with a rare blood disease, Adam Sandler’s character George Simmons recruits a young comedian played by Seth Rogen as his assistant, and begins to perform standup comedy again and start putting his affairs in-order.

Through the creative use of archival footage (of which, Adam Sandler has a lot), the film is able to flesh out who George Simmons was, repurposing home-video and making mock-trailers for fictional movies one could very much imagine Adam Sandler playing in during his heyday. It’s a simple idea, but it works wonders in this film, offering both hilarity and a unique sense of immersion. We’ve seen filmmakers do this before, but I believe this might be my favorite instance of it.

The story is heavier than the average Adam Sandler film, but it plays directly into one of Sandler’s greatest strengths – the sad clown / the cynical funnyman. Although Uncut Gems blew me away with how different Adam Sandler seemed from himself, in some ways, it feels like this was the role all of Adam Sandler’s career was building toward.

The character George Simmons has more money than he will ever spend and is cherished by his fans, but he has found that his fame is an empty consolation prize for a lack of personal connection.

To quote BoJack Horseman, “One day, you’re gonna look around and you’re going to realize that everybody loves you, but nobody likes you. And that is the loneliest feeling in the world.”

George Simmons is a lot like Adam Sandler is. This is a near one to one recreation of him, in fact. He does the goofy voices and has a filmography filled to the brim of absurd comedies, a lot of them looking corny and more than a little stupid. However, it’s from that foundation the film builds wrinkles to who he is, what he is searching for, and what he wants out of life. The character is complicated. Nuanced, even. He isn’t necessarily good nor bad.

The character has become desensitized to his life, having sex with anyone and everyone he can, and living a fairly selfish lifestyle that sees others thrown to the wayside. Now, knowing it might all come to an end, he is able to make the first steps toward changing himself and making amends for the bad things he has done to others. It’s noble and relatable, but, at the same time, life usually doesn’t wrap up with a neat, orderly bow like that. He is still arrogant, and still entitled, and still unready to make the changes needed to really improve himself. As he casts himself out in new situations, or tries to rekindle old flames, you root for him to achieve that, but you also realize that he hasn’t earned it.

The film is intelligent in how it portrays his character and makes you appreciate the small victories it leaves you with.

This is Adam Sandler’s film through and through, but, it does allow room for Seth Rogen’s character as well, who has his own entanglements to work out as well, but largely serves as an onlooker to George Simmons’ lifestyle – initially enamored, eventually disappointed, like everyone that meets him.

Funny People is a very ambitious film, which can be a double-edged sword in some ways. The comedy-drama has a runtime of nearly two and a half hours, like some type of Martin Scorsese gangster film. I don’t fault it, per se, but I could understand the argument that it could have been considerably shorter. The many different undercooked subplots, like Seth Rogen’s character and a love-interest, the conflicts with his friends, etc., likely could have ended up on the cutting-room floor and resulted in a tighter, more concise finished product. The best moments always happen when Adam Sandler’s character is on the screen, and I think that they could have leaned into that.

At the same time, I do appreciate how they tried to let things breathe the way they did and, in some ways, it helped elevate the film to an epic-scale. It feels a little like two mid-sized films squished together, one being the relationship between Sandler and Rogen’s character, the other being Sandler’s character and the character portrayed by Leslie Mann.

Could the film have been shorter? Certainly. Is the film self-serving or indulgent? Maybe a little bit.

I choose to look at the film as a celebration of Adam Sandler’s career, filled to the brim with familiar faces from the 2000s comedy scene (and ones we hadn’t fully met yet like Bo Burnham), and a thoughtful character portrayal with George Simmons, rediscovering his enjoyment of things and learning to cultivate relationships that aren’t simply one-sided.

This is the Adam Sandler-iest film there is, but is, in the truest sense, the first time it has wholly been for the better and not for the worst.

Rating: – 4.0 out of 5.0