Posts Tagged ‘Funny People’

Monday Medley

What we read while hiding our golf clubs…

  • Food is a big part of Thanksgiving. Which food that is, though, depends in part on what region of the country you’re from. Check out this “infographic” which shows where search queries for different Thanksgiving foods came from geographically.
  • Speaking of baseball and sabermetrics, as free agency hits, here’s an older piece from Patrick Brown of The Millions about baseball and its relationship with the Internet, including an in-depth analysis of gamecasts and the polarizing nature of J.D. Drew.

(Some) Things Fall Apart

Bill Simmons has offered a much more negative (and more succinct) review of Funny People on Twitter. And while I disagree with him about this particular film, he has set off an interesting debate on Twitter about the concept of movies that “fell apart.”

Now, as is inevitable in a democratic debate forum like Twitter, this has devolved into people ranting (can 140 characters be a rant?) about movies they don’t like.

The original concept, however, is intriguing. Let me outline what I think it takes for a movie to Fall Apart: 1) The movie had to be on track for greatness. The first half, or two thirds, or three-quarters of the film have to not only be good, or better than the second half, but excellent (this rules out Funny People from the get-go). A film can only “Fall Apart” if it has gotten your hopes high with a great start. 2) The final act has to not only go awry, but fail so spectacularly that it tarnishes the initial greatness. In other words, you can’t appreciate the good stuff in the movie because the ending was so bad.

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Expectations and Genre

Josh claims that we shouldn’t let genre classifications affect our judgments of films, and Josh, I agree with you, in theory. In theory, we should evaluate movies based on content…in theory.

In fact, though, this is an unattainable ideal, since expectations are impossible to avoid in movies.

Take an example that comes outside of the genre dilemma Josh outlines: spoilers. I try very hard to avoid any and all spoilers for a movie/TV show/book, to an almost excessive degree. I don’t just try and shelter myself from twist endings and dramatic reveals, but from everything about the plot. I don’t even like fake spoilers (“Man, the ending of Rocky was great, when he and Apollo Creed team up to defeat the evil aliens”), because they eliminate potential (granted, highly unlikely) possibilities. Ideally, I don’t want to know the protagonist’s name before seeing a film.

The logic behind this is the same logic that Josh uses in regard to genre: Knowing things about a story before the narrative reveals them is going to predispose me to have certain expectations for the film, and I don’t want my judgments to be based on my personal expectations. If I expect, for example, Mufasa to die halfway through The Lion King, then it’s going to detract from the emotional impact of the death when it happens, just like expecting humor is going to make me disappointed if I don’t laugh. Continue reading

Funny People and Genre: An Unhappy Couple

In his review of Funny People, John claims that “this is certainly Apatow’s most serious/least funny movie. As the name of the film implies, Funny People is more interested in showing funny people than being funny.” John’s right: Funny People does not fit into the traditional mold of the Apatow comedy or the traditional mold of comedy more generally. The advertising campaign for Funny People sends mixed signals: On the one hand, the trailer and the website emphasize the fact that this comes from the writer/director of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up (two definite comedies), but on the other hand the trailer is backed by music by the Postal Service, certainly an indicator of drama. Apatow’s declaration that “I’m trying to make a very serious movie that is twice as funny as my other movies. Wish me Luck!” certainly doesn’t help to settle the drama/comedy distinction.

Does this even matter? Who cares how the movie is billed? Why don’t we just watch the movie and decide for ourselves? Ideally, this would be the case. Nevertheless, expectations matter. We generally hold movies we perceive as comedies to different standards than movies we perceive as dramas. A comedy is supposed to make us laugh and need not have complex characters and plot development (see my review of Bruno for an example of this). John, for instance, recognizes the characters in Apatow’s other films are pretty conventional and undeveloped but partially because of the films’ comedic genre, this becomes acceptable so long as the movies produce hilarity. Once the perceived genre shifts to drama, however, our expectations shift. We don’t expect hilarity, but we do expect deeper plot development and more complex characters.
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What Happens to Funny People?: A Review

“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.

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Ra-ra-ra-raaaaaaaandy: Aziz Ansari’s Brilliant Balance of Parody

For those of you not yet aware, Judd Apatow has a new movie, Funny People, about comedians in Los Angeles coming out in a few weeks. As part of the promotional material for the movie, the fictional projects of the fictional comedians in the film have become, well, slightly less fictional. Clips from nonexistent movies starring Adam Sandler’s character “George Simmons” (who seems to be a fictional version of Sandler himself) are available on YouTube, has clips of a fake show called “Yo Teach!”, and Aziz Ansari has been doing stand up as his character, “Randy”.

Now, all of these projects are essentially parodies: The fictional films seem a lot like send-ups of actual lowbrow comedies, the fictional show lampoons “Welcome Back, Kotter”-style shows (“Do you guys know who the greatest rapper of all-time is? William Shakespeare!”), and “Randy” seems to be a parody of Dane Cook: 

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