The first thing that came to mind when I saw the trailer for this one was that horrible movie from the 80s called "Punchline". There seemed to be some similarities on the surface as they both involved a veteran comedian mentoring an up and coming one. The huge difference was I had a lot more confidence "Funny People" would be considerably better with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen starring and Judd Apatow at the helm. You certainly didn't get that same feeling with "Punchline" since it starred a young Tom Hanks still finding his way and Sally Field.
George Simmons (Sandler) is a comic superstar who learns that he suffers from a rare blood disorder that will likely kill him within a year. The news gives him a new found spirit to return to his roots of stand-up comedy, something he hasn't done in years due to the massive success of his movie career. He meets struggling stand-up Ira Wright (Rogen) at a club and George hires him to both write his jokes and be his personal assistant. Over time, George confides more and more in Ira and Ira sees a different side of his idol as well as the superstar lifestyle.
The role of Simmons probably wasn't much of a stretch for Sandler. If he ever did decide to get back to stand-up, he would essentially be that character, minus the terminal illness of course. All older comedians experience something similar. If they have a successful movie career, they get a little detached from the stand-up scene and lose their edge. That's why they will often recruit younger writers to provide them with fresh material. I still remember being a little heartbroken when I first learned Richard Pryor didn't write all his material as he got more and more popular.
The important thing is how the material is delivered. Ira does pen some good stuff for George but George struggles with making it funny on stage. I like how it's conveyed during his stand-up routines. You can tell that the audience is laughing because of who he is more than the fact that he's actually funny. It presents a bit of a grey area. You wonder if Sandler could really do stand-up or if his act would garner that same type of canned laughter.
I do like how the premise of the movie evolved around an established comedian getting back to the basics of stand-up comedy as a coping mechanism for his terminal illness. It just made perfect sense. Several people tend to bury themselves in their work as a means to relieve the stress of their real life. It is such a natural fit that that is how a successful comedian would face his problems. That's where Sandler shined by portraying Simmons as a stressed star struggling with the fact he may have a short time to live and realizing he has only a superficial life to show for it.
One thing "Funny People" touches on is something I have always suspected: being a personal assistant to a celebrity would suck. Sure you would get to rub elbows with a lot of famous folks, but you have no life of your own. You would make good money and have no time to spend it. Not to mention there's no job security. If the star gets mad, you're fired. Poor Ira went from making $1500 a week as George's personal assistant to going back to making sammiches at the deli. I could do without that kind of stress in my life.
What exactly is Eric Bana? He's played about every nationality you could think of outside of African American. Well, that and Hispanic. But if the role calls for a foreign accent, he seems to be the man. Although his attempt at an Aussie accent here was pretty ridiculous. That's actually what made his part so good.
"Funny People" is definitely a different take from Apatow. He leaves the raunchiness that made him famous just to show that he can be more diverse if he has to. Thanks to a great performance from his former real-life roommate Sandler and a great supporting cast (including Jason Schwartazman and Jonah Hill), Apatow delivers once again with another great flick. I hate to jinx him, but it really is looking like Judd can do no wrong.
My rating: A