Funny People

Film Review by Dean Duncan Jul 15, 2015

This is a handsome, ambitious production. Apatow is trying to jam a lot of things in here, and though the result is somewhat garbled and distended, ambition can do that. Let a guy try things! Not only is there a lot of really funny stuff, there are also considerable insights, successful scenes, powerfully developed motifs and ideas and themes. But there’s also a troubling remainder here, a sign of what is probably a deeper difficulty, a more fundamental incompatibility. You can consider deep life issues at the same time that you engage in slapstick and heightened verbal comedy. Preston Sturges, for instance. Chaplin! You can certainly consider the search for transcendence in a profane world. You can go on to explore how the apparently or allegedly profane might have something sacred in it, or at least deeply true or typical, after all. All good, all fair.

In the end, though, I find this production to be neither good nor fair. There’s love here, and tenderness, and aspiration. But it finally ends up being like that last concert film that Lenny Bruce made. The thing from which these characters need to escape is their bread and butter, or the life they’ve chosen. And it compromises them. As the characters go, so too the movie. Is it like that young man in Mark, chapter 10? They just can’t or won’t make the change or the sacrifice. They’re trying to have their cake and eat it.

That’s not possible though. The thing is, this kind of language, this kind of conversation, these kinds of attitudes have an affect and leave a mark on a person. It’s a poignant prospect, really, maybe kind of Abraham about, Lot in Sodom-like. Remember how he wanted to save everyone, at the same time that he knew their lives were summoning whirlwinds? The iniquitous aren’t usually Boschian demons, probably. There’s so much good there! The image is tarnished, but the iniquitous are still divine offspring. But the mournful terminus comes when iniquity has taken over, to the point that there’s no prospect of return. Believers aren’t always hypocrites, or hateful. The injunction is clear: love your neighbour. But your neighbours can go too far, such that association with them will only, ultimately, lead to degradation.

And movies are finally indices of the people who made them, aren’t they? Let’s restate. Our main characters are reaching for some moral system, or some decent way through the morass. But the writer-director can’t stop returning to his bread and butter, or maybe his vomit. Dirty jokes can certainly be funny. They can even connect to agricultural realities that aren’t actually dirty at all. But though the (really striking, powerfully loathesome) Sandler character is trying to remove himself, and though the Rogen character is, rose in the midden-like, removed already, though Apatow character casts and involves his wife and his children, for heaven’s sake, the final accounting is pretty clear, and pretty unworkable. How do you put this? He finally seems more committed to degradation than he is to salvation, or even plain decency. His heart, or maybe his perceived audience and the profit they bring, is in the movie’s, the world’s big problem.

I appreciated the movie, but felt bruised and distressed at the end. Afterwards we got on the computer and found a terse, tender three paragraph e-mail from our daughter, who was then on a study abroad and traveling in New Zealand. It touched upon many of the pressing issues, the hard paradoxes that I mentioned Just above. And on those subjects that e-mail was funnier, dearer and more edifying than these benighted 145 minutes could ever be.

Is that fair? Is it even relevant? Who cares about your daughter?!

Quite right. That isn’t remotely relevant, not for any of you anyway. But for me, and then for you in your setting, with your own striving loved ones, these exchanges constitute an equivalency, a sufficiency, a transcendence that can and really should relate back to our media choices. The world, yes. But it’s too much with us, isn’t it? Getting and spending, and worse. Eventually, maybe sooner than that, we’d better just go out from among it.