At first glance, this sounds like a fail-proof partnership in comedy. There’s the king of crass humour Judd Apatow (of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up fame) behind the camera, and leading funnyman Adam Sandler in front of it. But Funny People is wrong on so many counts, as it tries to tread both drama and comedy.
In one of his less memorable roles, Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a successful comedy actor living the high (but lonely) life. When he not only gets diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia but faces a slim chance of survival, he falls into depression. After some introspection (aka re-watching his lowbrow blockbuster comedies), he decides to go back to his roots performing stand-up comedy. While he hires Ira Wright (Seth Rogen, Apatow’s preferred accomplice), an aspiring stand-up comedian to help him write lines and run errands, Simmons himself plots to be reunited with his now married ex-fiance Laura (Leslie Mann, who is in real life Apatow’s wife)” part of his own live-your-life-to-the-fullest regime.
It seems that Apatow is gunning for more out of his audience besides laughs here, but with a bumbling narrative that is neither serious enough nor funny enough, it fails to cover any base. It also looks as though he has bitten off more than he can chew, in attempting to weave comedy into comedy by having the characters perform stand-up routines. But either the audience lacks Apatow’s sense of humour, or the jokes are just not funny at all. There are admittedly a few good lines, but those are too few and far in between. What fills up the gaps are endless jokes about the male anatomy but then again, this is a Judd Apatow outing.
With the premise of juxtaposing mortality against a comedic backdrop, Funny People could have been so much more, in terms of tone, depth and quirk, and so much less at 2 hours and 20 minutes long, the movie was unbearably drawn out. We did not leave the cinema with split sides so much as a splitting headache.