Judd Apatow has emerged over the past few years as the director of the slacker. Whether it be about a slacker or simply to have a slacker tone to the piece, his work tends to have this laid back quality to it that promotes a sense of warmth and believability. The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Pineapple Express, You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Fun With Dick And Jane and even the television show Freaks And Geeks all had Apatow somehow involved, whether it was through direction, writing or in a producer role. All of the films scream Apatow. There is a sensibility about his work that just shouts lack of pretension. Those films vary when placed along the spectrum of quality; however, there is a distinct sense that that matters little to Apatow. For Funny People is another example of him putting that sense of fun and lack of pretension to the mainstream viewer hoping that they embrace it wholeheartedly like they did so many times before.
Funny People tells the story of George Simmons, Adam Sandler, a hugely successful comedian who lives the life until a scare from his doctor identifies that he is going to die from an incurable case of Leukaemia. Re-evaluating his life, which has seen him abandon his family and many of his former friends he quickly realises how badly he has treated many of those close to him and plans to make amends. With the help of a struggling comedian Ira, Seth Rogen, he makes contact with the relevant people and tries to fix what he so disastrously broke. Amongst those with whom he tries to make contact with is Laura, played by Leslie Mann, who is his ex-fiancée. But here lies a problem as she is now married with two children and a husband, Eric Bana, who does cheat but whom she bizarrely still loves.
There is much to admire about Apatow’s take on the oft-told tale of impending death, not least of which is Sandler, who really brings nuance to a role he truly seems to understand. Between his George here, his Charlie Fineman in Reign Over Me and his stellar Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love, he has some real grounds to be considered a top-notch but misused actor. His work here isn’t the only worthy of mention either with Leslie Mann backing up her fine work in Knocked Up with another really funny but grounded portrayal of a woman in an unhappy marriage. Also hitting the mark is Jason Schwartzman once again playing the obnoxious to perfection as a sitcom star and bit players in Aubrey Plaza as a Daria-like straight-talker and RZA as Ira’s work colleague, Chuck. Other players in Rogen, Bana and Hill are adequate in roles that could have potentially been more than to what they amount.
Overlong at nearly two-and-a-half hours, the film could have done with some trimming, however, in the end Sandler’s work here keeps you glued. It’s a fine piece of entertainment with far more depth than perhaps one may have given it credit. Funny People is another example of what Apatow can do without trick or fancy.