Judd Apatow had a hot streak, and it was bound to run into some bumps. That’s the industry; people are always waiting for failure. Instead – though it didn’t connect theatrically – Funny People is not a bad film, it’s a character study that has some problems when it transitions from one protagonist to another, but you can tell Apatow is trying to stretch his muscles. This may make it more interesting than good, but it’s definitely worth a look. My review of Funny People after the jump.
George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a Sandler-like movie star who finds out he has a form of leukemia. Faced with the possibility of dying, he goes to a comedy club and does a terrible set as he works through his issues. Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) witnesses it, and has a run-in with George. Then George calls Ira and offers him a job, along with his roommate Leo Koenig (Jonah Hill). Ira lies and takes the job for himself. Ira and George grow close and Ira encourages George to make his peace, especially with Laura (Leslie Mann), the girl who got away. The big transition is that George takes some experimental medication and beats the disease. And when he decides that he’s still in love with Laura, he makes his play, as the film moves away from Ira as the lead to George.
As they say on the commentary, the biggest problem with the film is that – and partly because it was revealed in the advertising that George gets better (but even without knowing that) – the film has a lopsided structure with the first act of the film (in classic three act structure terms) takes up over half the movie. And the transition into the third act involves Simmons’s reconnection with Laura and her family (Mann and Apatow’s daughters Maude and Iris Apatow). Apatow’s attitude toward infidelity and sexual relations is impressive and smart, and that’s one of the strengths of the film. But for the film to take as long as it does to get there, it shows that the film isn’t strong in dramatic tension, and even its dramatic moments are mellow in comparison.
Apatow has talked about John Cassavettes as an influence, but there’s none of the danger or rough edges, though there is some great nuances and small moments. Perhaps Apatow doesn’t have that sort of tumult in his life, nor do the characters seem to have a lot going on under the surface. Yet, there’s a lot of good in this film. Aubrey Plaza plays a female comedian that Ira develops a crush on, and she steals the movie for me, though RZA shows great comic chops as one of Ira’s co-workers. Famous people like Ray Romano, Eminem, Norm McDonald, and Andy Dick all have some funny beats, but if anyone shines strong it’s the brief appearance of Aziz Ansari as Raaaaaaaandy, the stand-up comedian who resembles a Dane Cook type. This becomes more apparent in the supplements. So there’s a lot of good here, but my primary reaction to the film was that it felt like a bass solo, and needed a little more danger to really bring it to life.
But even if you weren’t all that crazy about the film, there’s so much to love about Funny People’s Blu-ray release, and there’s so much here it’s hard to pick a favorite part. Universal’s Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (1.78:1) and in 5.1 DTS-HD. The film comes in both a theatrical version (146 minutes) and an unrated version (153 minutes). The film also comes with commentary by Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler, and it’s talkative and recorded before the release of the film. The first disc is also loaded with supplements with a making of doc called “Funny People Diaries” (75 min.) broken into four parts, “The Premise,” “The Set Up,” “The Punchline” and “the Button.” Then there’s two line-o-ramas (5 min. and 6 min.) then two gag reels (6 min. and 5 min.).
That’s just disc one. Disc two kicks off with twenty-four deleted scenes (48 min.) with some excellence in there, including extended Raaaaaaaandy bits. Then there are the twenty extended scenes (66 min.), with easily my favorite addition, a longer take on the comic’s lunch together, with the gang talking about coming up, and a great run between Ray Romano and Seth Rogen. There are three documentaries, including one on “Raaaaaaaandy!” (22 min.), one on the radio show Judd Apatow did in high school interviewing comics (4 min.) – which had him talking to people like Gary Shandling and Harold Ramis – then there’s a piece on James Taylor’s concert for the MySpace show (7 min.). Much of this is continued in the music section where Taylor performs six songs (27 min.); Adam Sandler and Jon Brion play three songs (14 min.), while Sandler goes solo for a piano in-character song “George Will Be Gone Soon” (5 min.), and RZA contributes a Podcast and a brief rap ode to his faux-employer Otto’s (4 min.).
Okay, there’s more: In “Stand Up” There’s a Funny People Live” special from Comedy Central (42 min.) with footage of the performers doing their bits, and some of the artists they turned to for advice, including Maria Bamford and Brian Poeshn. Then there’s George/Sandler’s set from the MySpace show (8 min.), and Randy/Ansari (6 min.) and Ira/Rogen’s sets (7 min.) at The Improv. “From the Archives” offers performances by Adam, Judd and Seth early on in their careers (27 min.), and “The Films of George Simmons” offers clips from five of his movies (7 min.). There’s also five prank calls Sandler and Apatow did in 1990 (18 min.), which is followed by the very mature Apatow and Sandler on the Charlie Rose show (57 min.). There’s also a behind the scenes and five clips from the TV show inside the movie “Yo Teach” (21 min.). “Kids on the Loose: The Sequel” (5 min.) gives Judd’s kids their spotlight, “ADR Line-o-rama” (3 min.) offers more off-screen jokes, then there’s “George in Love (2 min.), which are outtakes from George having sex with groupies. The disc is finished off by the film’s trailer. This means if you include the commentary there is over ten hours of supplementary features and over eight of just footage alone, making it twelve hours plus of viewing from film to end. That’s a long wade, but there’s a lot of great stuff in here, and it’s fun to make your way through.