As serious a film about comedy as has been made in a long time – we’re looking, arguably, back at something like Billy Crystal’s Mr Saturday Night for the last to even try to explore such territory – Funny People finds writer/director Judd Apatow not afraid to throw jokes our way, but also willing to dig into the lives behind them. His life, more to the point.
He does this by bringing together Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler. The former plays Ira, a comedy wannabe who, through a series of circumstances, ends up writing for major international comedy star George Simmons (which is where Sandler comes in).
Most directors would be happy to explore the relationship just between these two, and yet Apatow isn’t content to leave it there. For Simmons, we learn, has a life threatening disease, which you would think would then form the basis of the film. But it doesn’t. For even there, the film piles more on, filling its two and a half hour running time with further drama about the evolution of Ira and George’s relationship, and the troubles and drama behind writing, making and performing comedy. This is deliberately toning down the plot quite a lot, because I’ve no intention of spoiling it. Yet, it’s the foundations on which Apatow builds his film, and there not the ones that you may have been expecting.
In fact, scrub that. It’s the foundations that he builds two films on, that aren’t particularly comfortably mashed together. It’s not tricky at all to see the join between the stories Apatow wants to tell – and reportedly, Funny People did start life as two projects – and that’s one of its problems.
And yet, nonetheless, there’s an ambition to what Apatow’s trying to do here. He’s not going for easy guffaws – although there are some funny moments, not least the interrogation of a Swedish doctor, and some of the movies that Simmons has appeared in – and he doesn’t really get them. Instead, it’s the drama underpinning it where Apatow spends most of his time. As such, those looking for a chucklefest are going to get a very long (too long, to be fair) film that won’t make them laugh very much.
But that doesn’t mean it should be dismissed. Because, warts and all, Funny People works. It shouldn’t do, but it just about does. Sandler and Rogen play off each other well, and the supporting cast – rounded out by the likes of Leslie Mann, Eric Bana (who isn’t given much to do), Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman and a series of comedians coming along and playing themselves – gels really very well.
It’s a bumpy ride, and not one that’s gong to reward everyone, particularly those looking for Knocked Up 2. But Funny People should endure over time, and go down as one of the most interesting projects on the CVs of all concerned.
Comedy discs don’t generally offer compelling reasons for buying a Blu-ray version, and while the picture and sound quality here are strong, in truth, you’re not getting the kind of home cinema workout that would justify the outlay.
The extras, though, are brilliant. The Funny People Diaries is a documentary that shows everyone else how it should be done, a 75 minute look through the making of the film from start to finish. Coupled with an audio commentary featuring Adam Sandler, Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, this pair of features alone are better than 95% of the extras you’re going to get all year.
Furthermore, though, you get gag reels, lots of material on the film’s music, over half an hour of deleted and extended scenes, archive material of Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow, a young Sandler making a prank call and a look at the fictional films of George Simmons (through the trailers from the main film).
Make no mistake: Funny People offers a stunning collection of extras, and no matter whether the film impressed you or left you cold, they demand to be seen. An outstanding package.
The Film:The Disc:
Funny People is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.