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'Funny People'

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Ross Douthat's column on Judd Apatow's "Funny People" is very good, for two reasons. The first is that it's simply a good column, and one of the first Ross has written that really plays to his strengths as a cultural critic and a translator of a certain socially conservative ethic. The second is that it reminds me to recommend that people see "Funny People." But go in with realistic expectations. This is not a funny movie. This is a sad movie about funny people. There are moments when you'll laugh, but the overarching narrative is not cheerful. The film is like nothing so much as having a hard conversation with a particularly witty friend. The jokes are there to ease the tension, but they don't resolve it.

In a way, "Funny People" is the movie that "(500) Days of Summer" promised to be. "(500) Days" sold itself as a courageous break from Hollywood conventions but flinched and delivered a slick reaffirmation of the traditional romantic comedy and the enduring possibility of a happy ending. "Funny People" sold itself as a fun film about frat boy comedians who discover the worth of life and love, but actually delivers a complex movie about a selfish man marooned in an unhappy life, and expressly rejects the cheap notion that years of bad choices can be wiped clean in a single moment of revelation and repentance.

The problem, of course, is that the people going to see "(500) Days of Summer" really want to see "(500) Days of Summer." The people going to see "Funny People" might want to see "Funny People," but it's not what they think they're seeing. When I walked out of the theater, I was a bit cool toward it. But the more I've thought about it, the more I actually like the film. And the more I think people should see it, and support this kind of moviemaking.

Photo credit: Tracy Bennett Photo .

By Ezra Klein  |  August 10, 2009; 11:04 AM ET
Categories:  Movies  
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Comments

Of course my teen aged son went to see it with friends and they thought it was hilarious. I suppose laughing to hide the pain comes later.

Posted by: bdballard | August 10, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

While Conservatism does take this traditional approach to character or the arc of a life, good character being the result of a hard won process of taking the "right," virtuous (in an Aristolian or Thomist sense) choices. But of course Republicans for the most part do not. At least Republicans who are evangelicals (give your life to Jesus and wipe away your former life) or who buy into bad self-help books do not believe this. Ross probably knows this but figured it wouldn't be worth pointing out in his column.

Posted by: Castorp1 | August 10, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, I'll have to disagree with you. Funny People happens to be a very, very funny movie, I laughed throughout. The heavy topics made it interesting on another level, but it's also still very funny. I would compare it to Scrubs, a very silly show that at times was very serious. But the the show was still funny.

Posted by: cycl06 | August 10, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

The underlying premise is deeply flawed. Apatow's films simply are not "conservative" in any meaningful sense.

Posted by: AnanSudanomos | August 10, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry but, imho, Adam Sandler is not funny and simply contributes to the "dumbing down" to this country. I'm surprised but not shocked that seemingly intelligent people find him funny. I expect the uninformed / uneducated to find him hilarious.

Posted by: vegasdude | August 10, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

ezra,

i agree that you can't go into it looking to laugh although parts of it are funny.

I also like the idea that many comedians out there are very sad (Andy Kaufmann, John Belushi, John candy for example)because it takes too much of their energies making others laugh that when they stop and look back at their lives they realize what they've wasted.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 10, 2009 1:11 PM | Report abuse

actually, any of sandler's 'funny' movies I thought silly.
The 'serious' movies he's made (click, splangish) are really pretty good.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | August 10, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

When Douthat claims that "nobody likes" "Funny People," he thinks he's simple exaggerating, but in fact, he's misleading. A lot of people have praised it, few of them social conservatives. Quality critics at the New Yorker and the New Republic-- both pretty liberal magazines-- gave it high marks.

Douthat uses hyperbole to suggest that less conservative movie-goers have turned on Apatow, because now his vision is more deeply conservative than before; in "Funny People," there are dark consequences for those who take their responsibilities lightly, and Douthat would contend that this is a truth liberals from which liberals turn.

Except, they haven't. Check any movie review aggregator on the internet, and while Funny People does not rank as high as "The 40-Year Old Virgin," it still scores quite well.

Even if there is a little more critical grousing about "Funny People," I think the reason has little to do with its purported conservatism and more to do with simple fatigue. It seems like Apatow has been connected to every third movie comedy of the last four years. Back as far as "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," I remember thinking, when's he gonna run out of luck? It might be unfair, but his abundance makes the audience wary-- or, a fraction of that audience, anyway.

Again, most critics like the movie-- even the couple that Douthat cites, if you read their entire articles, are more ambivalent than negative. So, as much as his premise of the movie's conservatism is unpersuasive, so is his secondary premise that its conservative spirit makes it tougher for liberal critics to embrace.

Posted by: turnbuckle70 | August 10, 2009 4:10 PM | Report abuse

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