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Vol. LXIII, No. 31
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

THIS IS HOW IT’S DONE: George (Adam Sandler, left) appears on stage with his protégé Ira (Seth Rogen) where George demonstrates how to hold the audience in the palm of his hand to Ira.

Funny People: Sandler Stars in Bittersweet Film About a Terminally Ill Comic

Kam Williams

Most people are probably unaware that at the beginning of their careers Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow shared an apartment in Los Angeles. That was back in the eighties when they were both struggling standup comics. However, they went their separate ways after Sandler was invited to join the cast of Saturday Night Live in New York City while Apatow remained in Los Angeles. Judd Apatow would eventually produce a series of successful films such as Anchorman, Knocked Up, Superbad, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and Pineapple Express.

The former roommates have come together to make Funny People, a bittersweet film about a terminally ill middle-aged Hollywood iconic comedian (Sandler) who gives an aspiring young comic (Seth Rogen), who is working in a deli, the big break he’s been waiting for. Written and directed by Apatow, the semi-autobiographical adventure is a major departure from the scatological and sophomoric slapstick comedy filled movies which he has made in the past.

By contrast, this film is a maudlin meditation on the meaning of life that pays homage to virtually every comedian in Hollywood. The dialogue relies heavily on a brand of humor that is reminiscent of the banter popularized by the hit HBO series Entourage.

At the opening of the film, we find George Simmons (Adam Sandler) lounging around his sprawling mansion’s pool dividing his time between making phone calls and perusing scripts. The shallow Romeo also has his pick from among the adoring throngs of groupie women who throw themselves at him.

Everything changes when he is diagnosed with late-stage leukemia by his Swedish doctor (Torsten Voges). With less than a year to live, friendless and estranged from his only sibling (Nicol Paone), George becomes desperate for a shoulder to lean on. So, he offers aspiring comedian Ira, who is working as a delicatessen counterman, a job as his joke writer and opening act, hoping to find a confidante in the process.

So, Ira moves out of his apartment where he had been living with a couple of wannabe comics, Mark (Jason Schwartzman) and Leo (Jonah Hill), to live with Simmons. George and Ira prove to be good for each other and gradually bond, with the former grudgingly showing his protégé how to hold an audience in the palm of his hand, while Ira helps his boss appreciate the things in life that really matter.

The plot thickens when George’s ex-girlfriend, Laura (Leslie Mann), shows up and falls in love again with him. Unfortunately, she happens to be unhappily married to a philanderer (Eric Bana) with whom she has two daughters (Maude and Iris Apatow).

En route to the surprising resolution, director Apatow pays tribute to his fellow comics at every turn via a dizzying number of “blink-and-you-missed-it” cameos which include Charles Fleischer, Dr. Ken Jeong, Carol Leifer, Andy Dick, George Wallace, Paul Reiser, Sarah Silverman, Dave Attell, and Norm MacDonald. However, all of the above are upstaged by Eminem in a hilarious appearance as a rap star who resents being stared at by a fan he doesn’t realize is Ray Romano.

At almost 2½ hours, Funny People has its moments but suffers from about 30 minutes of material that could have easily hit the cutting room floor, such as a musical performance by James Taylor. Furthermore, the film felt like it was about to end several times, only have another plot twist extend the film each time. That wouldn’t have been a problem, if this were a typical Sandler or Apatow presentation, but it doesn’t go well with such somber material.

Very Good (2½ stars). Rated R for profanity, ethnic slurs, sexuality, and crude humor. Running time: 146 minutes. Studio: Universal Pictures.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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