Let’s get serious for a second: Judd Apatow is an artist, and not just because there’s an art to telling a great dick joke.
He likes to examine the big things in life. Popping that cherry (The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Love, kids (Knocked Up).
And now, in Funny People, only his third directorial outing… death. Yes, death, Apatow taking 145 minutes to explore how Adam Sandler’s filthy-famous Hollywood star George Simmons copes with terminal illness. Bummer.
Wait, come back… there’s two things you need to know. One, unlike most Please Take Me Seriously (vanity) projects, Funny People is smart, emotional and truthful; it feels loose and lived in, entirely free of pomposity. Two, it boasts great dick jokes.
The plot, such as it is, sees silver-screen funny man George tentatively return to stand-up when he’s diagnosed with leukaemia. Suddenly aware he has no friends or confidantes, George enlists struggling comic Ira (a slimmed-down, dialled-down Seth Rogen, impressive) to pen gags and provide emotional support.
Ira lives with fellow comic wannabe Leo (Jonah Hill) and sitcom star Mark (Jason Schwartzman), thus allowing Apatow to bring the frat gags and to present pretty much the entire span of the comedy universe.
Drawing from his own life, Apatow further blurs fact/ fiction boundaries by casting his own wife and kids in key roles and starting the movie with video footage of old pal Sandler goofing around in college. Tricksy? Smug? Not a bit – all this sleight-of-hand shuffling lends real perception to the jokes, raw poignancy to the soul-searching.
And it doesn’t end there, with Sandler bravely riffing on his real-life screen persona (to put the oxy into moron) by having George star in formulaic, imbecilic comedies. Is Mer-man really any worse than Little Nicky?
Ambitious, magnificent, flawed (a misguided third act features an amusing-but-incongruously-broad turn from Eric Bana), Funny People is Apatow’s best yet, an artistic triumph worthy of awards. Let’s just hope the Academy don’t gag on those dick jokes...