DIRECTED BY JUDD APATOW
STARRING: ADAM SANDLER, SETH ROGEN, JONAH HILL, JASON SCHWARTZMANN, LESLIE MANN, AUBREY PLAZA, IRIS APATOW, MAUDE APATOW with AZIZ ANSARI and ERIC BANA
It’s a typical dark-side-of-the-moon venture. Think of a Doctor who prescribes for anyone but himself or his family. Of an ascetic who draws sexual favours. Of a Peace-Corp representative goring it on ‘Battle Royale’. George Simmons (Adam Sandler), big time stand-up act and an A-list movie star – a life-sized replica of Sandler himself, in short – takes the stage on a nostalgia trip in the bar where he used to perform. “You people are so un-amusing that you have to pay another person to amuse you!” he says to an audience so quiet that you’d hear a clock ticking if there was one. The crowd is baffled – they don’t know if they’re supposed to laugh or feel offended. It’s the same with you. This is one among those people who have always derived humour from insults, so is it any different this time? Judd Apatow thus extracts the rudeness out of stand-up comedy and extends it at its rawest best. It’s bitter, but not distasteful. And the scene itself is key to a murky film that attempts to show what’s behind the poker-faces so reinforced to earn some laughs.
George Simmons is dying, or so he thinks. He has the wisdom of an aging man and yet the heart of a boy, for he looks for a shoulder to lean and a bedside conversation so he could talk himself to sleep. Adam Sandler loads him further with quirks of his own, particularly the determination to stay old-fashioned. “No one wants to hear about how you masturbate”, he counsels Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), his trainee-cum-creative-source. No ‘ASAP’. No ‘Just Chilling’. Sandler in the first hour of ‘Funny People’ gives a kingly performance in familiar territory, one that compares with the likes of Jack Nicholson (in ‘About Schmidt’) or Paul Giamatti (in films as ‘Sideways’ and ‘American Splendor’) except he’s not as down-to-earth. His purgatory is not devoid of perks, he still lives lavish, has his pick of women though he feels he’s got his heart out for none but one. He’s a satire on remorse, purely by virtue of unlikelihood. He wants to be sad, but he’s not. The closest he gets to sadness is dry irony, that which peaks in the song he renders at half-time – the point where the film peaks as well, only to fall back down to ‘usual’.
A biography on stand-up comedy as an organic whole diversifies into a less-impacting bonding venture that concludes that there can be none. Apatow’s super-saturated ‘family film’ turns to a moderately-convincing melodrama even though it doesn’t compromise on comic relief. It’s a lot of things, a lot of different kinds of things, different mindsets to laugh about, which is so taxing that I wished for a simpler, straighter sketch!
So ‘Funny People’, as I saw, was a patchwork of two films with George Simmons. In one, it’s a fame-crazy bunch of youngsters, the next generation that’s all about betrayal, lies and last laughs. In the other, he joins the crowd. Woody Allen as Harry Block in ‘Deconstructing Harry’ remarks, when on a road trip, that his immaturity gives him a boyish quality to match his girlfriend’s age. A similar trip in this film shows its two overgrown boys in Simmons and Wright, trying to reconcile with their own selves. And then it’s back to square one with nothing drastic having happened. It’s not a happy ending. It’s not sad either. It’s just real and inspires empathy, in which it leaves us strangely dissatisfied. The latter half of the film serves to make one forget the first, for the film is awfully long. And in its course, we find ourselves sodden with misery to be dried in indifference with a lean period in between that haunts too much.
For the first time, a mainstream Hollywood comedy shows us that the best of laughs is where you don’t try too hard. And it’s a shame that it had to turn defensive against its own discovery, resorting at times to instances for the sake of humour than vice-versa. Nevertheless, for Adam Sandler, it’s a revelation; a role where for once you take him seriously. For Judd Apatow, this is yet another, but with a little more maturity than usual at the expense of some. A welcome change that gives reason to hope.