“You know what would make a good story? Something about a clown who makes people happy, but inside he’s real sad. Also, he has severe diarrhea.” —Jack Handey
This Deep Thought—if you replace the word “diarrhea” with “leukemia”— kind of sums up the conceit of Judd Apatow’s new film (technically only his third as director, but his influence as a producer/writer has been felt everywhere in comedies recently, from Pineapple Express to Superbad), Funny People: Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a beloved but lonely comic on the verge of death, who befriends/employs an upstart comedian, Ira Wright (Seth Rogen).
Simmons is in some ways an analog of Sandler himself (an important difference, however, is that Sandler, unlike Simmons, is married with two children): A stand-up comedian turned star of popular, critically panned films—Re-Do, about a man-baby, Sayonara Davey!, about a white man living with a Japanese family, My Best Friend is a Robot, about, well, you can probably figure it out— that bear a certain resemblance to Sandler’s own filmography.
While these films bring Simmons fame, fortune and success with women, they don’t bring fulfillment, and when Simmons gets sick, the only person he tells is his new assistant, Wright; Simmons has no close friends or family he feels comfortable confiding in. The movie, then, presents Simmons as the proverbial “sad clown”: He makes other people happy, but not himself.