Saturday, January 02, 2010
Cast: Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman
Director: Judd Apatow
Runtime: 132 min.
Verdict: As dramatic a film with funny people can ever get. And boy, it is funny. And dramatic. And true.
Genre: Comedy, Drama
I don’t know, but there’s something about funny folks that has always struck me as, well, interesting. Humor, most times, is just a pretense. A sort of defense mechanism to walk your way out of an uncomfortable situation. You don’t ever want to be caught with your pants down, right? I mean figuratively. I believe I have experienced it from a lot of funny folks I have encountered. I have seen, the funnier the person, the larger is the façade, the deeper the outer shell. Underneath, I suspect, lay a little child desperate to open out and share his deepest insecurities. And humor is always what he finds. The only little channel. A funny man is not averse to make a fool out of himself. And people laugh. Because it is all a joke. Is it the case that the funnier the person the more desperate the cry for help? I don’t know, but the sad clown is such a big cliché. From time immemorial. I think there is a deeper truth to it.
Mr. Apatow is our leading funny filmmaker. Mr. Rogen, one of my favorite funny men. Mr. Sandler, I don’t like his films, but I do know there is an intelligent and a good actor somewhere there. Mr. Schwartzman, I don’t know, but his little unassuming figure reminds me of Buster Keaton. He is sweet, and his very sight, sort of a cross between a sorry figure and an instantly likable one, is gold dust for any sort of gag. Mr. Hill, well, I can only say I love him. He is a flawless comic performer. In all his films, there is not a funny line that he has said and I haven’t laughed. I think he’s brilliant. Folks, these are comic geniuses we’re talking about. Well, with the exception of Mr. Sandler.
And the thing is, Mr. Apatow doesn’t make a funny film out of them. To make one would be like cakewalk. These guys do it all the time. If the past few years are anything to go by, they seem to do it at will. Instead they endeavor to make a real film about real people, and probably inch their way closer to what makes that funny bone to tick so vigorously. What is sarcasm but a cerebral way to show-off? Don’t ever believe a liberal funny man, because a liberal funny man makes sense only as an oxymoron. Funny people judge, judge others and judge themselves, and often fall into a vicious cycle of self-hate and self-pamper. It is all complicated, a hugely convoluted inner machinery, and the only way it all makes sense is by making jokes left right and center. Jokes on others, jokes on the government, jokes on the media, and just so to keep the balance of political correctness, jokes on one’s own self. They run into a corner, and they fight their way out through jokes. Such is the nature of the folks within Funny People. These are good people mind you, victims of their own self.
There is a wonderfully written scene that highlights this predicament. George Simmons (Mr. Sandler), a movie megastar of woeful comedies, has been contracted with terminal illness. George is a lonely man. An aspiring stand-up, Ira Wright (Mr. Rogen), is helping him during these last days, writing gigs for him as they perform their last shows. They come to the doctor, who it seems hails from the eastern part of Europe. He looks like Bjorn Borg and the movie knows that too. He delivers the bad news about George’s condition. Look at their reaction. George expects something good to happen, but what he is disappointed. There is no miracle happening. You should see how he deals with the uncomfortable situation, by turning against the doctor and his accent, and bludgeoning him with jokes after jokes. Movie and cultural references galore. It is funny on the exterior, and upon reflection, sad on the interior. It is so sad it is obvious. You should see the words exchanged during their second meeting, the doctor and George. It is all quite remarkable.
There are good performances throughout. Right from start to finish. You deliver actors into real situations and let them improvise, and you get brilliant stuff. True stuff. Why? Because actors are people too, you know. They are at their best when they don’t need to act it out. As I always say, one of movie-going’s great pleasures is to watch actors interact. This is such a film, right down to the two little kids, who happen to be Ms. Mann’s own daughters. They are sweet, you know, and my guess is they felt it was just another day at home. That is the sort of atmosphere Mr. Apatow has built for what might be his most ambitious film. It is one of those movies that make you feel good, not in an artificial manner, but because you have just been in touch with good folks. That has always been the essence of Mr. Apatow’s films, the belief in our goodness, and he doesn’t need to construct a contrast (read Amon Goethe) to highlight it. Because, you see, that belief doesn’t come through craft. It comes from within, and in the Apatow universe, everybody is a good man. A little kid at heart. Just that they have themselves to deal with. You see that final scene between Simmons and Ira, across the table? In another film, there would be an obligatory hug and stuff. In an Apatow film, they just understand. The good doctor understands. The friends understand. Ira understands. Simmons understands. And often in our life, we understand too. We don’t need the words then, and neither do we pay attention to them. That is when that funny façade melts away. I don’t know, dear reader, but I am reminded of those great final moments of interaction between Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. Oh boy, we tragic guys. Butcher’s hands, gentle souls.
Posted by Satish Naidu at 5:08 PM