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Monday, August 17, 2009

Stuck in the Middle Place: Funny People

Funny People
Dir. Judd Apatow
* * *
contains: graphic sexual language, swears, nudity.

Judd Apatow's third film is not his best, but it bears the mark of a director who is maturing, and growing. It has brilliant moments, but Apatow seems reticent to stay in unfamiliar territory even though his actor (Sandler) could have gone there. The film is better when its Apatow does Sunset Blvd. Than it is when its his version of The Great Gatsby. However, it seems that when Apatow is about to go into darker, and more interesting areas, he backs off with a series of penis jokes. Sandler gives a great performance, channeling himself only with more self-loathing (akin to what Jerry Lewis did in King of Comedy), and Rogen is pretty good. The film also features the best performance, or a least the best use of Jonah Hill I've seen. Leslie Mann, who can really be great, is a bit miscast in this film, and Januz Kaminski, one of the three best living cinematographers, isn't really showcased a whole lot.
Apatow needs to decide if he wants to be the John Hughes or the Robert Altman for 30 something single men; certainly he has his own, unique voice, but he shows obvious flashes of both directors in this film. This is better crafted film than any he's made so far, and the improvisational style is less foregrounded than in Knocked Up, where it often got out of control. But the tone is all over the place, unlike his first, and still his best film, The 40 Year Old Virgin. It's not consistently funny enough for the summer comedy audience, and not meaty enough for the cinephiles.

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