George Simmons (Adam Sandler) is a successful standup comedian when he is diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia that is untreatable except for an experimental drug regime that has a very low success rate. It means he has less than a year to live.
During a show at a comedy club, George gives a very bleak performance that is not well received. Following him, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), a struggling up-and-coming standup comedian, gives a performance in which he scathingly comments on George's preceding act.
George hears the act and decides to employ Ira to write for George and to perform as his personal assistant and general gopher. Ira's world is very different to the successful George's. Ira lives with two other guys in a small apartment and he sleeps on a foldout bed in the living area. He is envious of the apparent success of his flat mates and is struggling financially. As he enters into George's world he is overawed by George's marks of success — money, women, belongings — everything and anything he wants.
As Ira adapts to being part of George's world, his wide-eyed wonder and innocence begin to challenge George as George tries to come to grips with his imminent death. On the way, George begins to confront the superficiality, loneliness, and despair of his life.
Funny People is a profound examination of a whole range of themes — death, happiness, friendship, materialism, celebrity fame, marriage, and much more. Apatow has packed into the 146 minutes of this story as many subplots and themes as he could — many of these could make full narratives in their own right.
Adam Sandler is excellent as the troubled celebrity and Seth Rogen plays his role with innocent subtlety. Sandler and Rogen work extremely well together and the narrative moves along.
Because Funny People is about the world of contemporary standup comedy, it is stuffed with coarse language, sexual references, and other confronting adult material. But this material almost seems a desperate counter to a life of desperation.
As I have said, Funny People is not a comedy. It would be better described as a drama with humour. It is very deep and offers lots of material to think about. The resolution at the climax of the movie is mixed and no easy answers are offered to the question of what gives life meaning. But there are hints. We, as viewers, are respected enough not to be given a trite conclusion — at least not for all the characters.
I had read an interview with Judd Apatow where he said he wanted to make a serious movie. He has. So be warned. Don't go to see a comedy. Go if you want to be confronted with some serious questions about life and, in particular, think about where and how you find your happiness.
Coarse language and crude sexual humour throughout, and some sexuality
'Funny People is a true brass ring effort, a reach for excellence that takes big risks. It's 146 minutes, with a story that's more European in feeling than American.' - Mick La Salle/San Francisco Chronicle
'The denizens of Judd Apatow’s Funny People have been pulled every which way to fit a misshapen concept, yet they remain painfully unfunny, and consistently off-putting.' - Joe Morgenstern/Wall Street Journal