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Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Funny People

Oookay, we have our second film in my comedy double-bill Funny People, the new film by Judd Apatow. Now, Judd Apatow has been getting from critics two reactions: one, he is a hilarious, comedy genius, and two, he is a misogynistic idiot. In truth, I would side more with the former argument. I don't believe that he is an absolute genius, but he is certainly one of the best members of today's brand of American comedy. His first film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, was a very funny movie with a great performance from Steve Carell. Also, his sophomore film, Knocked Up, is superb, completely hilarious and absurd but not without a human heart. Funny People really is the movie that could either completely solidify his reputation as a great comedic writer-director, or completely destroy his career. With a budget of $75 million, a near two-and-a-half hour running time and a large ensemble cast, this really is Apatow emergence from low-budget comedy into the big, bad world. In Funny People, Adam Sander plays George Simmons, a successful comedian, who is lonely and withdrawn from the world, and following diagnosis of a potentially-fatal disease, along with aspiring comedian Ira Wright, played by Seth Rogen, sets to right the wrongs in George's life, such as reconciling with his ex-fiancé Laura, played by Leslie Mann. To start with what is good about the film, Apatow really handles his directing job with finesse, especially considering the behemoth task he has made for himself. As the driving force and auteur behind the film, Apatow really does a solid job of making sure things do not go horribly wrong, and directs what is undoubtedly his most mature film to date. Structurally, the film is solid, and remains relatively entrenched in the central story throughout, without many distractions. The subplots in the film actually create a fuller picture as opposed to create diversions in our attention, and are handled very well. Also, the characters are really well written. Simmons is a wonderful creation, a really strongly written characterisation of the age old "Tears Of A Clown" archetype. The case is likewise with Ira, who is so fatally and obviously human that we cannot help but sympathise with him despite wronging people on his attempts to rise up in the world of comedy. Also, the supporting characters are well written, but not so to the point that they become more interesting than the lead characters. Despite these strong components, the strongest component in the film is the central performance by Adam Sandler. This is a brilliantly multi-faceted performance. As the successful comedian, Sandler clearly draws from his own experiences and puts on the sheet of illusion-face brilliantly. The public image of Simmons is something that he himself has quite clearly manipulated and Sandler handles this well. Also, as the control freak, you do feel genuinely angry at the man in various points. However, underneath it all, we see a very weak and sad man, this aspect of which Sandler portrays best-of-all. Sandler portrays Simmons as a man who is quite clearly his own worst enemy, and the tortured man underneath has become confused with his constructed public persona. This is a very wise and strong performance from Sandler, who absolutely handles both the darker, more despicable side of Simmons brilliantly hand-in-hand with the good in a man who understands his own neuroses and wants to change for the better. Also, while Rogen has less to do, he portrays the changes in his character over the course of the film really well. At the start of the film, he is a weak and battered person who idolises Simmons, but not having been blinded by fame, Rogen portrays the moral conscience of the film with great aplomb, and despite being second fiddle in the film, gives a highly worthy performance that stands strong alongside the magnificent Sandler. However, while it is certainly a very good film, there are a number of problems with the film. For starters, it does really feel like too long a movie. A number of re-writes would either be necessary in order to make some scenes more interesting, because some of them unfortunately come across as filler. It's like because of the larger-than-life nature of the film Apatow must fulfil expectations of what we have seen from big-budget ensemble movies. Furthermore, and this proves to be a real problem in trying to gauge the mood of the film, it is not editing very well, and seems very uncertain as to whether or not it is a comedy. Granted, it is a tough job, for clearly Apatow is trying to make a dramedy in the vein of Little Miss Sunshine, in terms of it being both a genuinely funny movie, but also an emotional and human story. Unfortunately, the film does not do the balancing act very well, with some scenes being quite clearly comedic scenes and some being dramatic scenes, as opposed to all of the scenes and the product as a whole being a bit of both, therefore creating a more realistic film. Despite its flaws, I quite enjoyed the film, and Adam Sandler gives what could arguably be considered his best performance.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 7.1/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – A bit of both, but growling stomach beckons

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