There’s an epidemic sweeping Hollywood. Call it ‘The Tarantino Effect’ or ‘Peter Jackson’s Syndrome’: as soon as a struggling director gets a whiff of success, they splurge out on that lavish, long-cherished personal project, be it ice-skating gorillas or an entire afternoon’s worth of Uma Thurman in a yellow jumpsuit. Judd Apatow deserves his bite at the cherry: ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ and ‘Knocked Up’ sparked a revolution in American comedy, bringing charm, insight and fun back to a genre dominated by joyless fratboy antics. But were audiences really clamouring for a two-and-a-half hour Adam Sandler movie?In ‘Funny People’, Sandler is front and centre (isn’t he always?) as George Simmons, a legend of stand-up gone to seed in a succession of mainstream money-spinners. Diagnosed with a fatal blood disorder, he hires budding comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) as his assistant, and tries to work out where his life went off the rails.
There’s much more to ‘Funny People’ than a brief synopsis can contain, including a great deal of soul-searching and self-exploration as well as righteous gags and celebrity cameos (Eminem! Sarah Silverman! James Taylor?). And that’s the problem: there’s too much here for one movie. Apatow’s plotting, so streamlined in the past, has become flabby and undisciplined, as what seems to be a straightforward tale of mortality and redemption gradually becomes bogged down by unnecessary characters and outright schmaltz, staggering to an unsatisfying conclusion. This is a generous, goodhearted, enjoyable movie, loaded with memorable characters and genuine wit. But there’s such a thing as giving a little too much.
Click here to read an interview with Apatow...
...and read Time Out's list of the greatest cinematic stand-ups