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Funny People

Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in Funny People

What is it with Judd Apatow and penises?

The sight of them has become somewhat of a signature in the films he has produced and/or written, from Walk Hard to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. More than that, though, guys in Apatow movies talk about them. A lot. More even than they do in real life. His characters seem to mention them about as often as men in real life think about them, which the researchers tell us is an awful lot.

Apatow’s new film, the third he has actually directed, is called Funny People and is about stand-up comics. For the purpose of this film, a stand-up comic is defined as a person who gets up on stage to talk about his penis. When not on stage, he discusses his penis with his friends, or makes jokes belittling the size and use of his friends’ penises. Close friends may occasionally make jokes exaggerating the size and capacity of a friend’s penis.

You may say to yourself, “But what about female comics?” True, there are such creatures, and several of them are even seen here. They talk about their vaginas.

I may seem to be belaboring the point: raunchy material from stand-up comics is hardly unusual. But there is such an obsession with the male organ in Funny People that you have to wonder if Apatow isn’t trying to make some kind of point. If humor gives vent to our deepest and tenderest insecurities, what do these jokes say about the men who make them?

The answer seems to be simply that they’re dicks.

Apatow always talks in interviews about how as a kid his heroes were comedians, and that he was so excited to meet them when he entered the business that it compensated for the starvation wages he faced as a show biz novice. The notion of an Apatow film about comedians, at a point when he wanted to explore the more serious sides of the relationship issues he poked fun at in The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, was promising.

For fans of Apatow such as myself (I admit it), that hope began to fray with the trailer for Funny People, which seemed to give away so much plot that it seemed unlikely there was going to be anything left to discover in the movie itself. Worse, the plot looked utterly cringeworthy: Adam Sandler as a successful comic and movie star who, when diagnosed with a terminal illness, takes on an eager young protégé (Seth Rogan).

You can’t blame Apatow for wanting to go in a new direction, and at least he’s not going as far off the beam as the ambitious comedy director in Preston Sturges classic Sullivan’s Travels, who wants to forsake a string of box office hits like Ants in Your Pants of 1939 and So Long Sarong to direct a hard-hitting drama about the homeless called O Brother Where Art Thou. (Yes, it’s where the Coen Brothers got their title.)

The problem with Funny People is not the mix of comedy and drama. When the movie works, Apatow and his stars mine the material respectably enough. Sandler and Rogan both play against type, the former as a bitter jerk forced to deal with just how isolated he has become, the latter as an insecure performer who clutches his microphone when he’s onstage as if it were a life preserve.

But having set up his premise about the psychologies of people who have an emotional need to make other people laugh, Apatow either doesn’t know where to take it or is unwilling to squeeze it out. You can practically see him trying to make up his mind onscreen, and his waffling (especially with Sandler’s character) drags the film out to two hours and 25 minutes, the same length as Transformers 2.

The excessive length of Apatow’s previous films was tolerable because his practice of letting his casts improvise developed a lot of funny material. Why let it all wait for the DVD?

That’s not the case here. Some of the material he works in is undeniably funny, like the female standup (Aubrey Plaza) who does a routine about turning the tables on male rappers.

But a lot of time is spent indulging Apatow’s wife and kids, who in a lengthy subplot that begins at just the time the movie ought to be rolling out the end credits play Sandler’s lost love and the kids she had with the man she married (Eric Bana). It’s not that his wife, Leslie Mann, isn’t an able actress. And it’s not that his two young daughters aren’t adorable. Still, when your movie is pushing the two and one half hour mark, it seems to me that a place to start trimming might be your spawn’s rendition of “Memory.” (As if to protect it from studio executives who might have raised that very issue, Apatow weaves it in as a plot point so that, you can hear him arguing, the whole movie would fall apart were it scissored out.

A lot of time is also passed in cameos by more comics than you will be able to name (did he shoot part of this on the set of a Comedy Central roast?) Eminem, of all people, has a funny scene disagreeing that “Everybody Loves Raymond.” And James Taylor gets a big laugh—with a dick joke.

Watch the trailer for Funny People

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