Quite Funny People … and hopefully normal service hereby resumed

More apologies. We think technical problems have now been solved, so more normal blogging service looks like being resumed. That’s the plan. While I’m on the subject, the move to South Africa and change of life this results in means less trips to the cinema than in the UK, and sometimes vastly different release dates. So from now on, I’ll be blogging about whatever I see, DVD or cinema – and maybe even the occasional book or other thing. No rules….we’ll just see where it goes to…

I’m no great Adam Sandler fan, not that I can claim to have seen a vast number of his films. Or so I thought. In fact, on checking imdb.com I discovered that I’d only seen one of his films – The Wedding Singer – and I hadn’t completely hated that; in fact, I think I quite enjoyed it. I must have heard reviewers talk about many of his others and just assumed I wouldn’t like them – probably correctly.

So I come to Funny People. One of those compromise DVD rentals that tend not to end so well. I certainly didn’t have hugely high hopes. If I tell you that it’s one of those films with lots of the star’s comedy friends in it, then you’ll be expecting apoplexy from me. Discover that it’s directed by Judd Apatow, then you may be concerned for my long-term health outlook.

There’s so much in this that counts against me liking this. It’s a comedy film about a stand-up comic, with famous people playing themselves. It’s ‘serious’. It has a comedy fight in it. Some of the comedy is of the deliberately bad type. Yet it somehow just works. Adam Sandler plays a comic with a reputation for big-budget, less than good, films (I know, suspend your belief for a moment); he discovers a life-threatening illness. His stand-up takes a dark turn, and he gets a struggling young comic to write for him and pander to him. The catch? What does Sandler do when he discovers he’s cured and the love and affection being showered on him may not be as sincere as he thought? Throw in some not unpredictable romantic entanglements, and there you have it.

Funny People tries to be a grown-up comedy which is About Things, and please the more regular Sandler audience taste for broader bro-mance. Yet get past the celebrity love-in back-slapping, and the needlessly coarse stand-up footage (good stand-up isn’t always about sex, Sandler), and there really is something going on. I just wonder if what’s going is quite so intentional – and I mean that in a good way. The performances may be smug, but at least they’re good. Even if everyone is playing themselves to greater or lesser extents  – and I’d say that’s open to debate – at least they do so well. Which is much less easy than you might think. The flat-mate relationships go deeper than the usual comedy movie cliche – I’ve seen many a group of single friends just like this. The sense of fearful competition is painfully real, and funny.

Most significantly, though,  the change of comedy gears from slapstick to broad to Serious And About Stuff, may occasionally grate it does seem strangely believable. Maybe we’re seeing more than the film-makers intended: that the whole ‘sad clown’ cliche is not empty but contains a grain of truth. What the finished product of Funny People presents us with may be the idea that a true professional comic is a shifting sand dune of varied personalities, none of them at ease with one another.  One scene shows us Sandler’s character, watching an old film of his with the children of an ex he wants back. He can hardly bear to watch what’s bought him his life and most of his significant relationships – he doesn’t want to watch it, but can’t bear to be parted from it. Does Sandler really feel that about himself? There’s no doubt he’s trying to show the comedy industry as it is; is so, is he really saying that put a life of comedy and performance together, and you seem to end up with a such a diminished sense of self that you’re not even aware of when you’re truly revealing it. That you’re conflicted with narcissism and self-hatred. If the life of the comic shown here really is this isolating, competitive and needing such a complete performance even in private, then no-one inside the industry would, surely, be at peace. Sandler’s character doesn’t know the truth of what he thinks of himself. Is that what he’s saying about himself?

If that probably ignorant speculation is in fact true, then that’s a big step further than Sandler, Apatow et al intended to go. It certainly means I ended up quite liking the film. It does, though mean by watching it you’re watching the unintended comedy of embarrassment; like The Office, only for real. If that doesn’t keep you thinking long after the credits roll, then nothing will.

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