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Friday, 29 January 2010

Review: Funny People, dir Judd Apatow (2009)

This intimate, serious bromance is full of fast one-liners and single-issue riffs. What happens when you assemble an excellent comic cast - and it ain't a cast of thousands, either - is a heap of scatalogical jokes delivered in a low-key way so that the pathos of the elephant-in-the-room (George Simmons (Adam Sandler) contracts a form of deadly leukemia) isn't buried in laughs.

Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) is a nice guy who is picked up in a club's back room by the despairing Simmons who needs help shepherding himself through the rougher phases of chemotherapy. Simmons is older, wiser, richer and a lot more brittle than the resilient Wright, who nevertheless brings to the relationship more than just a set of killer scripts. He's hired to write jokes but he ends up functioning as Simmons' best friend.

The sad truth is that the middle-aged comedian - who's got a garage full of cars and flat-screen TVs he's been gifted over the years by sponsors - has no real friends he can rely on in his hour of need.

While he flails around, fighting the black dog of depression that the illness has burdened him with, he faces up to the fact that his once-girlfriend Leslie (Laura Mann) constituted his best chance at happiness. He decides to contact her. She visits. He invites her to a concert - her Australian husband Clarke (Eric Bana) is often away in China on business - and she invites him to visit her at her home just north of San Francisco.

Simmons - now in remission - and Wright drive in the classic rich-guy SUV from their base in Los Angeles, and enter a fraught zone of rich relationships that presents a nexus of trust the two funny men are totally unused to. With two little girls as company, Leslie makes the guys comfortable in an intimate, domestic setting. The lovers take a roll in the hay. Clarke returns unexpectedly. Things are on the verge of mayhem.

Which is, of course, where it all ends up. Naturally, there are recriminations and accusations of trust destroyed. Simmons dismisses a furious Wright, and drives off into the night to return to his own personal planet of luxurious loneliness.

It won't entirely spoil the ending for you, but it's not a downer, trust me.

One thing, for an Australian audience, that is refreshing is that Bana 'does' his character with an authentic, broad Australian accent. Unfortunately, he also ends up looking like a buffoon with a funny accent. Wright and Simmons have a poor track record here, making fun - to his face - of the treating doctor whose accent is Nordic or German.

Bana's Ozzie is a big, thundering brawler who loves Aussie Rules football and is liable to turn maudlin and self-reflective at a moment's notice. He's a rough diamond, as though Australia lacks the cultural depth to turn its children out as humans fully-rounded enough to become comedians with razor-sharp wits and the capacity for quotidien friendships.

This marks a sour note in the film. It's unfortunate that Apatow - who wrote the screnplay as well - finds it necessary to demonise one tribe in order to artificially bolster the humanity of his own.

Are comedians so inherently unlikeable? Perhaps, but the film is quite good.

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