Nothing On TV, Let’s Watch A Movie: Funny People

fuzzy TV smallMovie reviews of stuff that’s already been reviewed by real movie critics and is out on DVD but, if you’re like us, you’re just getting around to watching it. Or thinking about watching it. Or maybe this is the first time you’re hearing about it…

Selection: Funny People, directed by Jud Apatow, starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogan and Leslie Mann
Synopsis: A famous comedian (Adam Sandler) has a potentially fatal illness and hires a young comic (Seth Rogan) to be his personal assistant. Along the way, famous comedian gets a new lease on life and tries to rekindle a lost love (Leslie Mann).

Rebecca: If a screenwriter/director decides to call his film Funny People, he’s setting a bar. As in, the movie better deliver some funny people doing funny shit. So why did Apatow cast Adam Sandler?

OK, I don’t like Adam Sandler. I tried to come up something he’s done that I’ve enjoyed or really wanted to see and I’ve come up empty. I don’t even like “The Chanukah Song!” Which is all tough shit  for me because he’s  got a lot of stuff in development, three films in post production and a high-grossing slate of films already in the can. Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. This new Grown-Ups movie that’s about to come out [as my friend Chris pointed out, all those other guys in Grown-Ups are sooo lucky they’re friends with Sandler or they wouldn’t keep working].

Here’s a fun game. See if you can name the movies in which Sandler played a character named:

Skeeter Bronson
Javier Sandooski
Sonny Koufax
Dave Buznik

You know there are fans out there who could shout out the answers. If I were feeling masochistic this summer, I would watch every Adam Sandler movie ever made, so I could really have a refined opinion on his work. I could write a thesis on Adam Richard Sandler.

Keith: I dislike Adam Sandler as much as you do (or nearly), but in this case I appreciate what he brought to the table enough to put that aside. He’s annoying and not really funny, but he’s an established real-world comedian. This allows for some handy characterization shorthand AND he’s got the whole tension between his manchild act and his self-loathing reality… which means he can play himself and basically show off the one interesting thing about him.

So, it’s good that he’s a comedian, even if his comedy actually sucks.

Rebecca: I get that Jud Apatow has risen to a god-like status in comedy-making… kind of like John Hughes in the 1980s. He no longer has to be concerned about having a carefully structured script or an editor. His movies tend towards bloat. In Funny People it’s, “Hey,  Sandler loves to play guitar. Let’s have scenes of  him playing guitar,” and “Hey, Sandler likes to use his funny voices. Let’s get lots of that.”

Keith: I think the movie, from the title down, is pretty explicitly more about the dark side of comedy and comedians than it is about putting a slate of funny people in front of you.  And actually, I can see the upside of casting Adam Sandler- his real-world persona fits pretty neatly into the hole required by the movie. The guy’s famous for being an idiot manchild, and there’s no way a functional adult could be like that all the time, and the tension between the idiot manchild facade and the self-loathing dickhead inside basically is the movie.

Sandler cashes out a lot of chips unnecessarily with the funny voices, and the mumbling, and the guitar playing, but those are faults that could’ve been fixed with editing. So, yeah, we agree on that part. Apatow’s a talented guy (I think I like him better as a writer and producer than a director), but he’s clearly in a position now where no one will say no to him, and that’s not a good thing.  If you cut half an hour from this movie, it would’ve been fantastic.

But there doesn’t seem to be anyone with the power to say, “Hey, Judd, it’s awesome that you got all these comedians to do cameos, but they ADD NOTHING. Your daughters? Cute, but they draaaaag.” I guess it could be worse; George Lucas, in the same position, gives us steaming-bowl-of-shit prequels. Apatow’s doing OK to be making a movie that’s either a flawed success or an interesting failure (I go back and forth, depending on my mood).

Rebecca: There was funny stuff in here. But most of it came from the struggling roommates played by Seth Rogan, Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill. They should have had their own movie! Jonah Hill was funny. The underdogs are imminently more watchable than the top dog, even if the top dog has cancer, has to throw up a few times (with Seth Rogan’s character lovingly rubbing his back!) and take lots of medication.

The issue is that Sandler’s character recovers from his disease and then there’s another hour and a half of movie. It’s like two movies rolled into one. Cancer story finishes and wacky love story begins.

And the strained hijinx of wacky love story one has to endure to get through to the new-found compassion at the end gets tedious, particularly as one strains to hear what Sandler has to say. That guy is an expert mumbler.

Keith: I don’t think the ending’s as happy as it looks. Sandler/George might be showing a green sprout of humanity, but you don’t just up and drop as much self-loathing as that character has. This is a guy who’s still cruising for some misery; you can just imagine the angst as his career star starts to set and Seth Rogen’s character, Ira’s, starts to rise.

Rebecca: What about the self-loathing of Jud Apatow casting his real wife to play the part of a woman who is miserable in her marriage but decides to stick it out? What man wants to watch a love scene between your wife and Adam Sandler, much less direct one? And then to cast your own daughters… again… Seems fairly creepy to me.

Keith: Yeah, the business of Apatow filming Sandler possibly homewrecking the real-life Apatow kids was off-putting. Weird, and the weirdness of it sucked me out of the movie. I guess that’s another level of Bad Casting Choice; I think Leslie Mann was fine in her role, but it’s bad for casting to pull viewers out of the movie.

Rebecca: And the cameos by the comedians… yes, this the film needed this in order to make us believe George is a top comedian himself.  Naturally he would hang with other comedians. But the cameos were so wasted. Especially Sarah Silverman. It’s like:

Jud Apatow: Sarah Silverman, wanna make a cameo in my movie about comedians?

Sarah Silverman: What would I do, exactly?

Jud Apatow: I know… how about you talk about how every guy wants to sleep with you and then do something crude… like make fun of your vagina. Or no… make a joke about your labia!!! Yeah!

Sarah Silverman: Yeah! I can do that. But only if I get to wear my wool cap!

In the first “sex” scene with George (Sandler) and the comedy groupie, was that just the most unexciting sex scene ever? They are causally discussing the fact that she’s having  sex with him… and it seems its got to be a major let down. She could have been filing her nails. I suppose that must be how it is to sleep with some comedians. Funny is their overcompensation for being bad in the sack?

Keith: But the scenes where George is banging groupies were supposed to be let-downs. Like, that’s part of the larger point: he doesn’t really get any joy out of any part of his fame, even the parts that are supposed to be awesome (it’s interesting, too, that when Sandler appeared as himself on Undeclared, a big chunk of the plot was devoted to groupie sex).

Your “I suppose that must be how it is to sleep with some comedians” line reminds me of the Seinfeld where Jerry’s excited to be dating a Romanian gymnast, who in turn is excited to be dating an American comedian because all Romanians fantasize about how great comedians are  in bed. She’s disappointed in the end, of course.

Rebecca: I think Jerry Seinfeld would be very disappointing in bed. Don’t you get that feeling?

Keith: Definitely for me.

Rebecca: I guess I just did not get this movie on any level. What’s wrong with me? Terminally unhip?

I feel as if we should talk a bit about Seth Rogan. I say time for some new shtick. I like Seth Rogan a lot but… well… if he’s going to continue to act, it’s time for something different. He’s slipping into Michael Cera land.

Keith: I don’t think he’s capable of something different. He’s great at his one thing, but I think it’s all he’s got
(the new Green Hornet movie looks like Seth Rogen as Batman… which does have potential). The answer for him to avoid Cera-dom would be just to work less.  Doing your one role every two years is no big deal; doing it in four movies a year, you’re going too far.

Rebecca: Being fed up with being type cast is how actors made it into Hollywood Babylon. “Tired of playing a cowboy, Earl Hanks turned to opium and died in a YMCA on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.”

Enough about Rogan. The more I think about Adam Sandler, the more baffled I become. I do want to watch more of his movies, especially Punch Drunk Love and Reign Over Me (that sounds like a porno for people who enjoy golden showers, doesn’t it?).

Keith: I’m afraid of Punch Drunk Love. Don’t like P.T. Anderson, don’t like Adam Sandler, don’t like the idea of the combo. But if you watch it, I’ll probably wind up watching it, too….

Answers to the pop quiz:

Skeeter Bronson: Bedtime Stories (2008)

Javier Sandooski: Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo (2005)

Sonny Koufax: Big Daddy (1999) Was it really that long ago??

Dave Buznik: Anger Management (2003)