“Funny People”
Universal
At Quality 16 and Showcase

Courtesy of Universal

4 out of 5 stars

It’s a risky move on the part of Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up”) to name his latest film “Funny People.” After all, if the film is colossally un-funny, then it’s just going to be embarrassing for everyone involved. Luckily for him, the movie is funny. In fact, it’s very funny.

What the film’s trailer doesn’t reveal is that there’s a strong element of sadness within “Funny People.” Adam Sandler (“Click”) plays George Simmons, a successful comedian and actor who seems to have it all when it comes to fame and fortune, but has no real friends. That is, until he meets Ira Wright (Seth Rogen, “Observe and Report”), a struggling comedian who is overly enthusiastic to become Simmons’s assistant. Soon, Wright also becomes Simmons’s confidant as Simmons reveals his secret: He has a rare form of leukemia and is slowly dying.

Can a comedy successfully combine leukemia and laughs? It may sound surprising, but Apatow’s writing makes it work.

The film often veers, sometimes precariously, between hearty laughter and tears. But the effect isn’t as jarring as one might think. During the more upbeat moments (mainly the stand-up routines of both Sandler and Rogen), it seems a shame that eventually the fun will have to end and the film will have to return to its rather morose plot. But Sandler actually seems to benefit from the seriousness of the film, turning it into arguably the best performance of his career.

Apatow has proven in the past that he simply can’t figure out when to end his films (admit it, most of his movies are about 20-25 minutes too long). The problem with “Funny People” is that there are simply too many funny people (sorry, couldn’t help it) and Apatow wants desperately to include them all. This leads to several entertaining but unnecessary scenes involving — and this is just a very small sample — Andy Dick, Paul Reiser, Norm MacDonald and Ray Romano. But on the plus side, Romano’s brief cameo is funnier than anything he has ever done in his own films.

At times, “Funny People” feels like several movies thrown into one. One portion involves the relationship Wright has with his two roommates Leo Koenig (Jonah Hill, “Superbad”) and Mark Taylor Jackson (Jason Schwartzman, “The Darjeeling Limited”), while another details the friendship between Wright and Simmons. The most memorable plot point is Simmons’s attempt to become a better man when faced with his disease. All of these different aspects work very well by themselves, but there isn’t nearly enough time for deep character development.

Regardless, the relationship between George and Ira remains interesting throughout. There’s something special about seeing two funny people (again, couldn’t help it) interact with each other, and the scenes with the pair seem more like two friends hanging out than actors reciting their lines. It’s this casual attitude that makes “Funny People” seem less like a movie and more like a well-produced viral video of comedians riffing off of each other. This is truly another hit for the Apatow camp.

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