It’s not surprising that comedy writer/director/producer Judd Apatow (“40 Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”) and actor Adam Sandler suddenly turned serious. Many comedians – Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey – have sought validation in drama.
So raunchy George Simmons (Sandler), world-famous star of blockbuster comedies, discovers he has a rare but deadly form of leukemia. With no religion, no significant relationship and a life as empty as his Malibu mansion, Simmons is wretchedly lonely confronting his mortality. That’s why he forges a relationship with a struggling stand-up comic, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen), hiring him as a joke-writer/personal assistant, confiding only to him the secret about his terminal illness. Thrilled beyond excitement, Wright tastes the limo-to-the-jet life as Simmons schleps him along to a MySpace.com corporate event where troubadour James Taylor is the opening act. Acknowledging the presence of eager groupies, Simmons explains, “Girls like famous guys so I take advantage of it.” While Wright is proud and flattered to have been chosen to hover on the sidelines of the rich-and-famous – Eminem, Sarah Silverman, Paul Reiser, Andy Dick, Ray Romano and Norm Macdonald – he’s also ambitious and not above stealing his boss’s material.
At this point, the plot takes a maudlin, unexpectedly tedious U-turn. While taking experimental medicine to battle his blood disease, self-pitying Simmons reaches out to Laura (Leslie Mann, Judd Apatow’s real-life wife), the one woman he loved-and-lost. She’s married and the mother of two daughters (Apatow’s real-life children), living with her philandering Aussie-businessman husband (Eric Bana) in Northern California.
Transforming the oddly resentful anger that has always propelled the best of his comedy, Adam Sandler is convincing as the self-absorbed egomaniac. But Judd Apatow self-indulgently tries to cover too many bases, weaving in a subplot about Wright’s envious show-biz roommates (Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill) and the comedienne next-door (Aubrey Plaza), along with copious helpings of his trademark, trash-talking sexual humor. As a result, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Funny People” is a conflicted, intermittently engaging yet problematic 7, undoubtedly confounding the expectations of the usual Apatow/Sandler audience