Movie Review: Funny People

M: I got to see Funny People right around when I saw The Hangover, and they are two vastly different movies.  Going into it I had been warned that despite the title, it wasn’t particularly a funny movie.  That turned out to be wrong…  and yet right.

Funny People is about stand up comics, and specifically about Ira Wright (a slimmed-down Seth Rogan), an aspiring comic who catches a break by getting to write for and be personal assistant to industry legend George Simmons (Adam Sandler).  The movie centers around two things, Ira’s striving to become a successful comic and George’s battle with a rare blood cancer.  Comedy and cancer, a very logical combo for a movie, right?

We find quickly that George has great success, but has lost all sense of who he was, and has no close friends or relationships.  At the same time, Ira has very little success, but has some odd but close friends, most notably his roommates and fellow comics Leo (the ever-present and highly funny Jonah Hill) and Mark (Jason Schwartzman), the latter of whom is starring in a horrendous yet successful show called “Yo Teach!”   Ira is naive and hopeful and positive, while George is jaded and angry.  George is shallow and a male slut (why do we have to preface that with “male” when applying it to men?), while Ira is so deeply concerned with relationships that he is almost entirely unable to make advances on women he likes or is attracted to.

As Ira becomes a major part of George’s life he starts to influence him more and more, not only in writing some pretty funny jokes, but in bringing him out of the dark, self-centered and self-pitying cocoon he was in.  As the plot moves along, we follow George reconnecting with several of the people he’s pushed out of his life over the years, from his estranged sister to his old flame, Laura (Leslie Mann, of George of the Jungle fame), now not-so-happily married with two daughters.  I bet you can tell where that train’s heading….  the entire audience could, too.  The good thing is that it doesn’t go exactly as you would expect.  Well, it sort of does, but it takes twists getting there, and then keeps chugging along past the station, and ends up where you didn’t expect it to, which is a testament to the writing and directing.

We do see some small signs of George rubbing off on Ira, mostly in the form of his improved stand-up routine, but also in an increase in his self-confidence, a willingness to meddle into George life, and into making some changes in his own.

Now, as I said at the start, the movie was and wasn’t a funny movie.  Pretty much everything I’ve descried so far was either dramatic or meaningful.  The good thing was, they mixed in a lot of comedy.  Most of it was in the form of really good stand-up, where we get primarily sets by George (sounding pretty much like any Adam Sandler stand-up you’ve heard, just with slightly different material), Ira and Leo, but also some from secondary characters like the would-be object of Ira’s affection, Daisy (Aubrey Plaza), and Randy (the quite funny Aziz Ansari).  But that’s not the only place we get humor.  Some of the funniest scenes involve George and Ira interacting with the people around them, including a hilarious scene with George’s doctor, and a great scene where Laura’s husband (Eric Bana) tries to explain Aussie Rules Football to George and Ira.   I’ve never seen Bana in anything resembling funny before, but in this, especially in that scene, he was brilliant.

Add to that something I never thought I’d see, James Taylor dropping an F bomb, and the movie had a great mix of comedy and drama.  Rogan and Sandler are both very good, as are most of the supporting players.  The film built good characters who didn’t always do the right thing, but in most cases tried to, and learned from what they were doing.  The arc for each of the leads was a strong point, and without giving it away, the final scene was well set up, and kind of touching.  Overall The Hangover was funnier, but Funny People was better.

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