by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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I’m not particularly fond of Adam Sandler, even though I loved Punch Drunk Love a few years ago. But his new movie is a bit on the dark side. Funny People tells the story of a famous comedian who is given some bad news that he may soon die from a rare form of leukemia. Sandler plays George Simmons who’s made it big in life, even at the risk of love found and lost, and estrangement from immediate family members due to various reasons.
Once George discovers that he is sick, he decides to undertake an alternative health regimen that has been successful in only 8 percent of the patients who agree to try it. George is a bitter, ungrateful sort who meets an aspiring comedian named Ira played by Seth Rogen. Ira works at a grocery store, manning the deli counter, with the help of RZA, who’s coming into his own as an actor, after having started his entertainment career as part of the rap group Wu-Tang Clan. RZA plays Chuck, whose short time in the movie is marked by him using the “N” word a couple of times and calling his wife a bitch. He shows up toward the end of the movie, as Ira comes back to work at the deli, after having endured a stint as George’s assistant. I was glad to see RZA cast as Chuck, until he opened his mouth, and it’s disappointing to see the little dialogue that he did have didn’t really add much substance to the movie.
Even darker is the entire story of a comedian facing death, who doesn’t want others to know about his health condition. George seems to take out his frustrations and anger about his situation on Ira, who has two roommates, one another aspiring comedian and the other who’s had success in playing in a new cable sit-com.
Ira is hired to assist George and to also write jokes for him, as he embarks on a renewed stand-up comedy tour, in which he delivers somber jokes, which seem to center on “toilet humor” and “penis comedy,” as well as his eventual death. I don’t know if I’m missing something, but George talks a lot in the movie about other men’s penis sizes, including the landscaper who tends his lawn. It’s probably one of those “you have to be a guy thing” in order to get it. And I do understand that these types of jokes are director Judd Apatow’s signature.
After a while George finds that the alternative treatments are, in fact, working and that the cancer has gone into submission. But not before he’s approached an ex-lover, who’s married with two children of her own. In some misplaced fantasy, George believes that he can woo her away from her husband, which turns into a disaster.
One telling scene in the movie was between rapper Eminem and George, as Eminem tells George that he should have just been happy to die and just be over with it. It was a depressing scene, but I guess it was an instance of art imitating life, as Eminem has recently survived a rocky episode in his life.
I enjoyed the cast of comedians who played cameos in the movie, including Ray Romano, Sarah Silverstone, George Wallace, Paul Reiser, Norm MacDonald, Andy Dick, among others. I also enjoyed the unique artwork that adorns the apartment shared by Ira and his roommates, where famous comedians such as Redd Foxx, Rodney Dangerfield, W.C. Fields and Bill Cosby were featured in various posters and paintings.
For me, Funny People is a bit long-winded, clocking in at slightly less than 2-1/2 hours. But for Apatow and the cast members, the movie had them laughing all the way to the bank, as it took in the top box office for its first weekend. However, for those fans that are looking for funny, off-the-top Sandler, Funny People, unfortunately, is no laughing matter.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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