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Published on July 27th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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Review: Funny People

There will be a hundred reviews of Funny People coming out in the next 7 days talking about the plot and the characters and all the regular stuff that goes into a movie review. I won’t bore you with that.

What I – and presumably you, since you’re here – want to know is: how does the film portray comedy?

I’m viciously protective of comedy, and the way the public views comedians. I can’t help it. I see a beauty in the profession that most people don’t, and when someone reveals some cliched perception – whether the sad-on-the-inside one or the always-on-like-Fozzie-Bear one – I get a little snarly.

So when I found out this movie was being made, I was naturally skeptical. I was on the fence up until about a month ago, when the clips I’d seen and interviews I’d read made me confident that the portrayal of the comedy world was in good hands.

The basic truth? The over/under on this one? It succeeds. It’s accurate.

But – perhaps selfishly – I honestly wish it had succeeded more.

For all the hype surrounding the standup aspect of the film (Sandler going back on stage, Jonah Hill learning how to do it), there isn’t a lot in the film about the profession. There are a few scenes shot in the back room of the Comedy & Magic Club, and we can tell it WAS actually shot there. Rogan’s character gets bumped for a drop-in celeb. The guys sitting around writing… the competitiveness… all of it – what we see of it – is real, real, real.

I was prepared to report back with a lengthy itemized list of things they said/did/showed that were nice insider-y touches. Sure, Rogan is wearing a bright new UCB t-shirt in one scene, but that may have been the only time when my inner geek really cheered.

What about that scene with all the comics at the restaurant, you ask? That scene with Paul Reiser, George Wallace, Carol Liefer, et al that’s been talked about and some video released of? Yeah, about 10 seconds of that made it into the movie. Blink and you miss it.

funnypeopleThe standup performances themselves felt real too, which was a relief. Well written, well paced, well delivered. Rogan and Jonah Hill’s characters are still new to the game, and thus dick jokes dominate. They both pulled off that new-but-promising feel that you’re occasionally lucky enough to witness at an open mic. In line with his character, Sandler’s act feels like that of a veteran’s.

Those small details aren’t hugely instrumental to the story, though, so the comedy only serves as a colourful backdrop. The same characters could be plumbers and the basic idea of the film would be in tact.

I was worried going into it that Sandler’s angst-ridden character would play into the tortured-clown stereotype. But it wasn’t overdone, and he didn’t strike me as any more flawed or conflicted as any other lead character in a film like this.

It’s long, it does try to accomplish an awful lot, but I have only 2 minor complaints about it overall:

1) I ask this question hopefully: is Judd Apatow running out of family members to put in his films? Please say he is. Leslie Mann is welcomed in everything because she’s talented. But the sheer volume of screentime Apatow gives to his own kids (who play his wife’s character’s kids… got it?) is bordering ridiculous. They’re adorable and all, but an extended home movie of the one kid singing in her school musical? After you chopped the restaurant scene all to hell? Really? That’s the most blatant spawn-pimping I’ve seen in ages, and I watch Toddlers & Tiaras.

2) Did every shot inside inside Sandler’s house need to include as many of the he’s-a-movie-star props as humanly possible? Yes, Judd, we see the Emmys and the posters for his fake movies on the wall… because they’re in the centre of the frame, in perfect focus. Is the set decorator a relative too?

I enjoyed the film and look forward to seeing it again. The story is compelling enough, the performances are great. And, get this: it’s really damn funny. I caught myself laughing out loud in the theatre multiple times, which almost never happens. I can’t, in good conscious, have asked for much more. But there’s still a part of me that hoped it would deliver more of my personal agenda.

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



2 Responses to Review: Funny People

  1. Cam says:

    Thanks for this review, Sherilyn. I’m very excited to see the movie, and am glad that a standup aficionado enjoyed it. Almost certainly a poseur like me will enjoy it, too!

  2. Haha, thanks Cam! I think you’ll enjoy it.

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