I liked Leslie Mann the instant I heard her gingery voice snap at Paul Rudd in Knocked Up. Her chin and eyes are proof positive that some blessed people come equipped with bullshit detectors. Those eyes and that chin are not made to giggle adoringly in medium shots or close-up, yet that’s exactly what Judd Apatow does in Funny People. She’s his wife, she’s attractive, their kids are cute, and he and his cohorts have made Hollywood an awful lot of money, so he’s earned the right, I guess; but it signals what’s wrong with Funny People. It isn’t that Apatow, as lots of critics have suggested, regards women as civilizing influences on chunky comic blowhards; it’s that Apatow has an unexpected, tacit, and utterly weird contempt for the lifestyle these critics say he “glorifies.” Based on The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and now Funny People, Apatow is saying, “Life sucks if you don’t have a good woman beside you, and, by the way, she better laugh at your bad, awkward one-liners, and let you eat her out too.” If he really thought comedy a vocation in which a genuine talent could thrive for a lifetime, then he would have allowed Aubrey Plaza more space to roam; every time she throws one of her death-adder glares at Jason Schwartzman or Seth Rogen I wished that Apatow would have had the sense to pair her with Sandler.
Funny People is far from a disaster, but a lot of is attenuated; the bit players like Jonah Hill and Schwartzman (who, apart from his bit in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, continues to flex his talent for inoffensiveness) don’t have anything to do; the timing of the jokes is just slightly off; Seth Rogen, as he showed in Pineapple Express, is lumpen, embarrassed, and embarrassing when he accepts purely reactive supporting parts. A shame that the last hour turns into a Mandy Moore-Ryan Reynolds dramedy: Janusz Kaminsnki’s sunlit compositions serve as the perfect foil for Adam Sandler’s corrosive performance, a better team than Ed Lachman and Kevin Spacey in American Beauty. The move will cost him at the box office, though (and, considering Funny People‘s grosses, it already has), and won’t get the likes of Paul Reiser, Jon Brion, Ray Romano to line up for cameos (Eminem, whose self-parody is hilarious, is a different story) again. And Sandler really is fantastic, showing The Hidden Depths I was too myopic to see in Punch-Drunk Love (maybe my contact lens prescription wasn’t strong enough). He’s triumphant in a way that Jerry Lewis Going Serious in King of Comedy wasn’t. From Kaminski’s lighting his palatial mansion to look like Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu to the shrewdness with which Sandler modulates his patented old-Jewess routine so that it skewers him as much as everyone around him, Apatow could have made a nasty little Sunset Boulevard, which isn’t a great film either but at least had the courage to reveal how Hollywood regarded itself (i.e. self-regard with Oscars attached to it).
Anthony’s review is one of the best takes on the movie I’ve read.
PS: James Taylor’s dick joke must have made’em howl in the editing room.
PSS: Will Eric Bana, speaking in his natural Australian accent for the first time in ages, replace Paul Rudd as straight boy man-crush?