I hate that Funny People is 25 minutes too long, because it does a couple of amazing things. From his album They’re All Gonna Laugh at You through a few years after Happy Gilmore, Adam Sandler was a comedy God. I laughed so hard the first time I heard “The Buffoon and the Dean of Admissions” that I farted placenta. But at some point around ’97, he seems to have decided he didn’t give a sh*t anymore and started doing a string of increasingly sappy, unfunny paycheck abortions like Click and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. The only glimmers of talent came in dramatic roles like Spanglish and Punch Drunk Love, in which he proved he could act, but didn’t really seem like himself, like he was just trying to prove a point.
Funny People not only reminds us what Sandler looks like when he’s doing honest comedy — and by that I mean comedy that he himself finds funny rather than “You want me to do a silly voice again? Fine, I’ll do the a voice again. Lap it up, you pigs.” — but combines it with the Sandler who can act. Not only that, the story is the kind of pointed, meta-fictional take on his life that JCVD could’ve been for Van Damme if it hadn’t devolved into such a pretentious euro wankfest. I hate to be a reactionary, but while I was writing this I noticed other people calling Funny People Entourage with Cancer, and I felt compelled to point out all the differences between this and Entourage.
1. Decent writing
2. Decent acting
4. Likable characters
5. The celebrity character in Funny People is famous for having an actual skill
6. The minor characters are trying perfect an actual skill, and aren’t driven by the sole desire to be famous, or to hang out with famous people, or to help the main character get more famous
7. No one talks about shoes or cars, not even once
That’s not to say there aren’t problems. There are too many celebrity cameos, and whether it be James Taylor saying “F*ck Facebook” or Eminem screaming at Ray Romano, even when they’re funny they feel tacked on, and the humor is cheap in a very Entourage sort of way. Apatow had final cut and cast an old friend, his wife, and his children in prominent roles, so it’s certainly overlong and self-indulgent. But you also have to respect that someone can still make such an honest, personal movie about sh*t that’s actually been on his mind. And anyway, the pathos is half the fun. It’ll be interesting to see whether Sandler goes back to making sh*t paycheck movies after giving such a convincing performance as a guy who’s a little ashamed of all his sh*t paycheck movies.
Despite its problems, Funny People plays like a mashup of all the things that could’ve been good about Entourage and JCVD, with a Grand Torino-esque hardass-mentor relationship between Sandler and Rogen thrown in for good measure. It’s not Entourage with cancer so much as Gran Torino with dick jokes. You can quibble with plenty of scenes that should’ve been trimmed or cut, but there’s clearly something at stake in Funny People, and it’s not fame or wish fulfillment. It’s Apatow’s honest struggle with whether being “funny people” is about helping others or feeding your own narcissim. And an honest movie is something of a rarity these days.