I went to see the latest Judd Apatow comedy at the weekend. It didn’t make a lot of money in America but I read some of the reviews and it sounded promising. On a side note, I don’t know why, but I’ve recently been looking at box-office figures overseas as some kind of yardstick in judging if a film is worthy of my time. I know its ridiculous and it’s getting really annoying, but it’s always there, subconsciously in the back of my mind when I’m choosing stuff to watch.
I’m happy to report that not only was this a fantastic film, but for my money, it’s the best so far from Apatow and competes with Punch Drunk Love (although a very different role and film), as Sandler’s greatest performance. In fact, I couldn’t believe how good he was in this film. He’s playing a pretty unlikeable character here, but by infusing him with believability and pathos, there’s enough for the audience to still sympathise and relate to. It’s also interesting to note that while perhaps not identical on a personality level with the star, this is probably the closest he’s come to playing himself - further enhanced by the meta-sprinkles of having early video footage of a pre-famous Sandler at the beginning of the film and the character’s chose of film roles within the film, mirroring that of Sandlers previous output.
This is definitely a more character-driven comedy than both the star and directors previous work and that’s why it works so well. As funny as The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked-Up were, they always seemed to me (particular Virgin) as a series of comedy set-pieces arranged around a plot. Funny People has a well-developed and satisfying journey for its characters, and it resonates more strongly because of this. Annoyingly, this was obviously too much of a leap for an American audience to make as so far, the film has made just over $50 million at the US box office – all the more disappointing when you consider it was the big, so-called comedy ‘tent-pole’ release of the summer.
When Apatow decides to make another film, I can just imagine the studio executives pressurising him to jettison all the stuff that made Funny People work. I sincerely hope that this doesn’t happen and on the strength of his earlier successes, I hope he has enough muscle to be able to still make what he wants. Sadly, I have a funny feeling that it won’t happen that way.