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Posts Tagged ‘stand-up comedy’

Judd Apatow’s Funny People, a film about a comedian/celebrity George Simmons – confused me. As the end credits rolled, I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not. I ended up on middle ground, which was really annoying, given my aversion towards the neutrality of things. Indifference is the ultimate insult a common man can assign to a work of art and since cinema (and the love I have for it) is something I hold near and dear, I hated feeling inadequate about either recommending it or shitting on the essence of its being. Here’s the problem first. Adam Sandler (who plays George Simmons) must have hoped Funny People would do for him what JCVD did for Jean Claude Van Damme. I guess it’s alright for celebrities to seek therapy through self-caricaturizing; at least it beats going down to some river to pray. It worked for the Belgian muscleman because the public had never before thought of him as a man who suffers, let alone muse eloquently over all those crappy films he starred in. After watching his insecurities come alive on-screen, no longer did people think Van Damme’s first reaction to anything would be to do a seriously gay version of the splits or position his limbs for a Judo crane kick. The self-loathing characterization in JCVD hit a nerve (in me, at least) because it made for a chilling catharsis of the actor. Even Bruce Campbell’s My Name Is Bruce sort of worked, with the cult legend more than willing to laugh uproariously at his delusions of grandeur while secretly grinning at how fame once pulled a fast one on him about his place in cinema.

Despite not knowing if the director Judd Apatow intended to caricaturize Adam Sandler, I can’t but help nurse suspicions about it. Going by this alone, his film fell a little flat. The only musing I have ever done about Adam Sandler was whether or not the man is truly retarded. The characters he played in films like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmour and Waterboy seemed to be an extension of his real self minus the extraordinary savantism. His stand-up comedy too is centered on funny accents, childish cussing and penile jokes, something I’m sure his mates back home would testify to as a weekend by the couch with a couple of beers activity. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’d hate to think this didn’t affect my liking of this film. So, seeing his character supposedly bare his soul on the canvas didn’t do much for me.

Here’s what worked. Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana and the ten or so brilliantly executed cameos. Rogen and Hill – who play standup comedians Ira Wright and Leo Koenig – are probably the most sought-after comedians in Hollywood right now. They’re pretty funny, if only they didn’t indulge in so much toilet humour (conveniently, George Simmons makes a mention of it). Here they are in form, especially Rogen with his man-child impersonations. Now I know that if Sarah Silverman and Will Ferrell ever had a child, it’d be really funny. Hollywood’s nerdiest prodigy Jonah Hill is going places with his obnoxious anti-frat boy comedy and he knows it; the arrogance is evident and well-deserved.

As for Jason Schwartzman (he plays Wright and Leo’s egomaniacal roommate), he has a little Bill Murray thing going for him. No matter how similar most of the characters he portrays seem to be, he still manages to make them engaging. In Funny People, the sympathy he shows for his roomies is subtly hilarious. There’s a scene in which he sits next to Rogen’s character and explains why he slept with his date…look at the expressions on Schwartzman’s face, I’m telling you, Mr Murray would be proud.

Leslie Mann’s character (Simmons’ love interest) was well crafted too. I really dug the confrontation scene, with the three men standing there, jaws open and fists raised, unsure of who to blame and for what. Eric Bana provides standard fare as the sweet and sour-tongued Aussie husband who has read too many self-help books. For me, the true highlights of Funny People were the cameos. The scene in which Marshall Mathers (Eminem) confronts Ray Romano (from Everybody Loves Raymond) is just about the funniest scene I have watched in a mainstream movie in a long time. Rap outfit Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, Andy Dick, James Taylor, Paul Reiser – all provide rib-tickling fastfood humour, with quick and to the point punchlines. The Sarah Silverman stand up bit about Kanye West and Obama also qualifies as a laugh out loud moment. (if you find it offensive, you’re a bigger jackass than Kanye).

I’ll say this too…Funny People could be the first step towards changing the public (for all those who care, at least) perception of Adam Sandler’s talent as an actor. Truth be told, it’s probably the most intense he has even been. Even in the vastly underrated Paul Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love, the tragedy of his character’s life seemed more odd than actually moving.

In Funny People, George Simmons desperately tries to take a step back, lose the jokes and get a bit more serious about his place in the world. I guess, in 2009, Adam Sandler tried that too. To quote one of his classically retarded characters – Billy Madison – “Well, I made the duck blue because I’d never seen a blue duck before and I wanted to see one”.

Well, you decide if you want to see this blue duck (I’m aware that at some level, I’m making no sense whatsoever).

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