Apatow stretches with flawed but funny "People"

Wed Jul 29, 2009 6:33am EDT
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By Kirk Honeycutt

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The prerelease narrative behind "Funny People" is that funnyman Judd Apatow has gone serious in his third outing as a writer-director and made a drama, albeit one set in the world of stand-up comics.

Well, yes and no.

It's hard to consider "Funny People" as anything other than a comedy even if it does deal with a comic (Adam Sandler) who has a deadly disease. Indeed, a medical checkup only presents an opportunity for Sandler and his assistant (Seth Rogen) to mock a tall Swedish doctor. But there is a serious side to this film that makes the second half go awry.

Apatow as a writer, producer and director has created so many movies whose grosses reach the nine-figure stratosphere that no one should bet against "Funny People" doing likewise after Universal releases it Friday (July 31). If anything, admirers should be intrigued by a "serious" Apatow and accept a flawed comedy from today's master of laughs as a well-earned stretch. So box office might be slightly off from his greatest highs, but only slightly.

What is intriguing about "Funny People" is how well it plays for half of its 146-minute running time. A seemingly fatal disease that fells one of Hollywood's top comics, George Simmons (Sandler), causes him to reflect not only upon the emptiness of much of his life but also on the nature of humor. The characters, down to the smaller roles, are better realized and more lifelike than in any previous Apatow film, and he hits all the right notes in the film's pacing, laughs and emotions.

Then George Simmons has the temerity to get better.

While he is dying, George feels a need for a buddy. Because no one in his life fits that description, he hires struggling comic Ira Wright (Rogen) as an assistant to do everything from writing gags to talking him to sleep at night.

Ira lives with two other comics. Mark (Jason Schwartzman) stars in a hit TV sitcom -- which makes you wonder why he needs two roommates -- and Leo (Jonah Hill) is a somewhat plumper version of Ira and no more successful. (Rogen has taken off weight since "Knocked Up.") The rivalries among this trio earn a goodly share of the movie's laughs.   Continued...

<p>Actor Adam Sandler (L) stands next to co-star Seth Rogen and director Judd Apatow (R) at the premiere of their new comedy film "Funny People" in Hollywood July 20, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>