The basic premise is that Adam Sandler is playing a mega-movie star of schlocky comedies (much like, oh, Adam Sandler?) who is told that he has only a few months to live.
Unlike the real life Sandler, who is married and a father -- and whom I would be stunned if he was anything other than a very sweet guy -- this Sandler (named George Simms) is a malcontent prick. He has no friends, no real relationships -- nothing except his towering fame and all the goodies that come with it. (Be it a bimbo who wants to give him a night of commitment-free sex, or a flat screen TV that will just sit his garage gathering dust.)
The death sentence he receives gives him a few torturous months to reflect on the ruin of his life. He begins showing up at stand-up clubs and talking to the audience in (not very funny) monologue form. Along comes Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) a hungry young comedian whom he hires to write him some jokes and becomes his de facto assistant and caretaker as he runs out the clock on his life.
Rogen and Sandler make an excellent pair. (I strongly disagree with David Edelstein's assessment that Rogen wasn't up for the part -- I think he played the part beautifully.) Rogen is just young and fresh-faced enough to view the world of celebrity through excited, untarnished eyes. And he is innocent enough to be shocked by Sandler's stunning selfishness and misanthropy.
Moreover, these early scenes of the still-wet-behind-the-ears standup comic scene in L.A. is fascinating.
One essentially sees the same spirits you find in the Carnegie Deli in Broadway Danny Rose; these comedians chew each other up for sport and spit out the remains. Everything is a penis joke. Every joke is a chance to assert superiority. Every putdown is a challenge. Every joke has an undercurrent of cruelty behind it.
Rogen is desperate to get in on the act -- but he is a little too nice to do it successfully. (He has to endure two unendurable roommates, too, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman -- both of whom are hilarious.)
Yes, the first part -- as Rogen and Sandler begin to bond, and as they write their penis jokes -- is hilarious. I laughed my ass off at several points. The movie is part documentary about comedians; part meditation on a wasted life and a life that's just beginning.
Sandler is (no surprise) very funny -- but (bigger surprise) he also does the moody, dark George Simms extraordinarily well, too. Sandler has the mien of a man who is filled with self loathing that you never question.
But somewhere along the way I suppose that Apatow felt he needed to reach for the family-worship that worked so well for him in Knocked Up and The 40-Year Old Virgin -- which is really a shame, because Funny People really did not need to do this. (That's not really what the movie was about.)
Sandler discovers that he is magically cured of his ailment. And after a truly hilarious victory party (Eminem has possibly the funniest cameo I've ever seen in anything), the movie moves into mawkish, highly sentimental territory, and I stopped laughing.
I wish Apatow focused instead on Rogen. While Rogen plays Ira as nice as nice can be, he lets off little hints of a slightly more devious personality.
After a painfully bad set by Sandler, Rogen is unafraid to yuk it up with the audience about how awkward and unfunny Sandler's act was. Likewise, when Sandler invites Jonah Hill to also write for him, Rogen eases him out of the picture -- to keep Sandler to himself.
I thought Sandler would see too much of himself in his protege, and try to save him from the perils of fame. That's the plot that makes sense. But, instead, Sandler tries to woo the woman he once loved back into loving him (Leslie Mann).
I won't say anything more. (Partially because I'm exhausted and want to go to bed.) I'm also not sure there's anything more to say. Apatow worships normalcy and family in a way that I wish he could get beyond. Yes, certainly, family is good. (And Apatow's daughters are very adorable -- but they really had no place in this movie as Leslie Mann's kids.) But is another movie on the importance of growing up and being loyal to your family all Judd Apatow really has to say?
No. I refuse to believe that. Anyone who made the first half of Funny People has something more going on in his head. Go see it. But you might want to walk out the moment Adam Sandler starts feeling better.