By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
With its thick crust of raunchy humor and ostensibly misguided sexual attitudes, "Funny People" (Universal) makes inappropriate viewing for all but the heartiest moviegoers.
'FUNNY PEOPLE'—Leslie Mann and Adam Sandler star in a scene from the movie "Funny People."
Mature Catholics, well-grounded in their faith and willing to endure a barrage of vulgarity, may nonetheless discern in writer-director Judd Apatow's seriocomic tale a moving affirmation of moral courage, marital fidelity and the pursuit, however halting, of a meaningful, committed life.
During the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, Apatow narrowly escaped death when the chimney of his house collapsed on his bedroom.
His reflection on that experience, and on the renewed appreciation for life that followed, provided the premise for this overlong but generally effective character study, which opens with comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler) being told by his doctor that he has a rare form of leukemia and, in all likelihood, only a short time to live.
Though hugely successful as both a stand-up performer and a Hollywood star, George is a lonely, isolated man, alienated from his family and unable to bond emotionally with any of the fame-obsessed fans he easily seduces. A succession of unchallenging parts in puerile projects has also left him jaded.
So when he crosses paths with comedy novice Ira Wright (Seth Rogen)—whose youthful struggles remind him of his own early career—George offers Ira the multifaceted job of professional assistant, joke writer and sidekick. Entrusting him with the secret of his illness, George also expects Ira to serve as his companion, accompanying him on visits to the doctor and talking to him until he can fall asleep at night.
As George reassesses his life, and embarks on the course of experimental medication that offers his one slim hope of survival, he and his new protege bond. But their budding friendship, and George's aspirations to become a better person, are both put to the test by George's reunion with his now-married ex-girlfriend, Laura (Leslie Mann, Apatow's real-life spouse), the one woman he ever really loved.
Sandler is pitch-perfect throughout, projecting his character's cynicism and vulnerability with equal deftness. And Rogen is his match as the drama's unlikely moral compass.
Though hardly free of flaws—he unapologetically double-crosses one of his two friendly but competitive roommates (Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman)—Ira's fundamental decency circumscribes his hero-worship for George. His sexual restraint, displayed in his troubled relationship with fellow comic Daisy (Aubrey Plaza), undercuts the film's surface-level machismo, as does George's frank acknowledgment of the emptiness of his past conquests.
The film contains brief graphic nonmarital sexual activity, adultery, upper female nudity, pervasive rough and crude language, and a half-dozen uses of profanity. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L—limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R—restricted; persons under 17 years of age requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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