"He's really funny. I wonder why his movies are so unfunny," Clarke (Eric Bana) says about George (Adam Sandler) after meeting him in Judd Apatow's new film, Funny People. This line of dialogue perfectly captures the question many have been asking themselves recently. Adam Sandler is clearly talented and can be very funny, but his recent movies have taken thin, if not completely unbelievable premises and attempted to create stories out of them, some working towards an effective, if not entirely convincing emotional response (Click), and some so poorly thought out that they end up being complete contradictions and expose themselves for the narratively bankrupt messes they are (I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry). Funny People is Sandler's return to form, comedically and emotionally, and he delivers the best performance of his career.
The movie begins with George on his way to the doctor's office where he learns that he has AML, a form of leukemia, that is killing him. The disease is too far along in the process for known medicines or chemotherapy to work, so he is put on an experimental medicine where only eight percent of patients with similar symptoms have full recoveries. This news weighs in on him and he begins to lose hope that he will get better, and attempts to make peace with his ex-fiancé, Laura (Leslie Mann), before his death. To cope with his loneliness, he employs Ira (Seth Rogen) to write jokes for him, and even more importantly, be his friend.
Because the movie starts with George discovering the news about his disease, it's easy for the viewer to assume it and his inevitable march towards death are the causes of his depression. But as his leukemia begins to pass, miraculously fading away thanks to the medicine, we discover that it wasn't the sickness that was eating away inside of him, but rather his heartache over losing the one and only girl he's ever truly loved. That's what is killing him and knowing that he can't get her back is worse than any disease.
Adam Sandler plays George marvelously, perfectly mixing moments of humor with a true to life disposition, where his fragile outlook on life weakens the longer his body is afflicted with this physical, as well as emotional disease. He delivers a beautiful and powerful performance that really shows his acting chops. When he isn't relegated to making silly noises playing over the top characters with one note jokes, the man is a terrific actor. This is the Adam Sandler I love and this is his best movie since 2007's Reign Over Me.
Nevertheless, that doesn't mean he isn't funny here, because he most certainly is. One of the reasons the humor works in Funny People is because it is true to life, with jokes written for the story, not the other way around. In a movie like You Don't Mess with the Zohan, the absurd story took second billing to the scattered humor and produced a film with little heart, imagination, or laughs. Funny People has all three in spades and Sandler delivers more reasons to laugh here than in his last five movies combined, partially due to his willingness to poke fun at himself.
Anybody who has followed his body of work knows that he has starred in some overly trite, moronic films. In Funny People, he good heartedly lampoons himself, unabashedly allowing the movie to poke fun at not just his character, but also himself, slyly showing George's past works that look and sound just as outrageous as Sandler's own filmography, including films like Re-Do, where he plays a grown man shrunk down into a baby's body, Merman, where he plays a half man, half fish, and my personal favorite, My Best Friend is a Robot, which explains itself.
The movie, quite simply, is very funny, and that's because it is intelligent. Although it relies a bit too much on what some would dub "dick and fart jokes" (so much so that it would make Kevin Smith blush), Funny People by and large retains a sophisticated level of humor, aptly paying great attention to seemingly small details. A running joke in Hollywood, especially over the last year or two, is how Elizabeth Banks is in nearly every movie. Just last year, she had three pictures come out within three weeks, and Funny People is quick to parody this. When the film shows George's faux movie posters, Banks is shown to be his co-star on more than one occasion and is featured alongside him. This was a small touch, but a brilliant one and a hilarious wink to film lovers.
Funny People is nearly two and a half hours, which is quite a long runtime for a comedy, but every scene mattered and all were necessary in the telling of this story. It's a poignant tale that doesn't wrap everything up in a pretty little bow, but rather breaks from convention and avoids the predictable ending one usually sees coming from a mile away. No, this film explores real life emotions and shows that happy endings don't always occur, no matter how badly you want them to. Sometimes, you just have to play with the cards you're dealt. It's a sobering message and is delivered effectively through a terrific story, great humor and excellent performances, especially among Adam Sandler. Funny People is not to be missed.
Funny People receives 4.5/5