Tag Archives: Drama

Review: Funny People

Funny People is a movie I wanted to love, but just couldn’t.  Judd Apatow I have a lot of affection for as a filmmaker (Knocked Up is my least favourite of his, but Freaks and Geeks is easily one of my favourite TV shows), and I generally agree with the critics who laud his ability to balance juvenile comedy with legitimate drama, though I find myself much more drawn to the drama.  And his approach to Directing is one I take myself; maximum collaboration with an emphasis on improvisation.

Funny People is about Adam Sandler playing a darker version of himself, ostensibly.  He lives alone and has a fundamentally meaningless existence.  Anonymous sex, making mindless high-concept comedies (such as Mer-man and My Best Friend, The Robot), and famous “friends”.  When he’s diagnosed with a terminal illness, he returns to his stand-up roots.  When his alarmingly dark routine falls flat, up-and-coming comic Seth Rogen essentially follows his act by riffing on how dark Sandler’s routine was.  Then Sandler decides to take Rogen under his wing/employ as a writer and personal assistant as he tries to figure out what the end of his life is going to look like.  It’s a comedy, to be sure, but Apatow takes an intentional turn towards drama this time, and there’s some fairly dark scenes in an otherwise lighthearted look at death and fame.

There’s essentially three major plotlines that make up Funny People.  There’s Sandler’s dealing with his impending mortality and his relationship with Rogen, Rogen and his comedian roommates and friends, and Sandler trying to win back his long lost love (Leslie Mann, now married with children to Eric Bana).  And frankly, there’s close to enough material in all three for their own movie; I’d certainly say that Apatow could have done a full-length tale of Rogen balancing his life at home and with Sandler and a fairly economical, but separate, film about Sandler’s character at Leslie Mann and Eric Bana’s house.  And that’s really the problem with Funny People.

All three plotlines are well executed, and it’s to Judd Apatow’s credit is that the world he establishes is one that I wanted to keep watching.  But the movie is two and a half hours long, and as a result, it’s just… excessive.  The best parts of the movie are among Apatow’s best overall, and while there’s no fluff here, per se, the final product feels like it could use a less loving edit.  Maybe that’s the danger in writing such a personal project; you don’t want to leave anything out.

That’s really my only beef with the movie, but it goes without saying that a movie that’s too long is a big problem to have.  The movie, however, does have it’s share of praiseworthy elements.  Apatow’s shift towards a more mature tone, by and large, works.  There’s no serious gross-out moments, and while it has a lot of dirty jokes, the bulk of them are in stand-up footage.  Rogen and his roommates bear few resemblances to, say, Rogen and his roommates in Knocked Up (save Jonah Hill being in both).  Rogen’s performance shows a lot of growth as well.  As with most Apatow films, the heavy improvisation makes the performances feel more natural, and that definitely works in favour of the film this time; where the improvisations are and where scripted dialogue made the final cut only Apatow knows for sure, but the dialogue never sounds forced or “written”.

There’s a lot to like in Funny People.  Subtle “moments” pop up here and there, performances are solid, and Apatow has largely jettisoned the sorts of things that would have put his career at a standstill had he just made another Knocked Up clone with the same affable manchild characters (the most childish character is also the least likable this time around) and gross-out humour.  But it feels like what could have been here is better than the final product.

B-

Review Michael Clayton

As promised a week ago, my review:

Like I said earlier, I’ve now seen all but one Best Picture nominee from 2007.  I remember being a little surprised by it’s nomination (although really shouldn’t have been, given that this would be George Clooney’s third dramatic picture to get significant awards attention, along with Good Night and Good Luck and Syriana).  Mainly because it looked like something that’s been done before.  And technically it has.  The plot reads like something out of a Grisham novel – Attourney uncovers conspiracy/cover-up, does something about it.  It’s familiar territory of the last two decades or so, particularly in the earlier 1990’s when six John Grisham legal thrillers were released within four years.

So yes, the story’s been done before.  But the way it was told in Michael Clayton is what makes it what it is.  In general, I find most movies entertaining.  This is probably why you’ll never see a grade lower than a C+ on this site.  It needs to really miss the mark and actually bore me for that to happen.  But when a movie surprises me; catches me off-guard with even something as small as the framing of a shot or a small scene with perfect chemistry, that’s when I really perk up.

Michael Clayton starts off strong by beginning near the end of the plot and then going back and showing the events that lead up to it.  It’s a device that can very easily backfire, but when it works, it can result in some of the best moments (if not movies) in recent memory.  While it doesn’t lead to a devastating reveal like in Memento, but it makes the linear story more powerful as a result.  The scenes that start the film are great as is, but Writer/Director Tony Gilroy’s choice is one that makes the story, when told in full, that much more gripping.

As for specific scenes that grabbed me, Tilda Swinton’s Oscar-winning performance consists almost exclusively of the best scenes in the movie.  Tony Gilroy and editor John Gilroy deserve a good deal of credit for her best scenes.  The film as a whole is equally well-directed and paced.  While it feels like a long movie, it’s two hour runtime seldom drags.  Clooney’s performance is up to his established standard, but the supporting cast is what makes it work as well as it does.  While it is fundamentally about the title character, the supporting cast is in general just more impressive.  Tom Wilkinson’s performance is very powerful, and in the hands (well, voice) of a lesser actor, the monologue that opens the film would sound foolish, but Wilkinson nails it.

Other standout elements include James Newton Howard’s score and the overall look of the film.  The subject matter is harsh, and the film itself has a cold tone to it.  While it’s not overbearing, it keeps the tone consistent, and when paired with Gilroy’s direction, it makes for a very consistent visual result.  But it’s by no means a flawless film.  While repeat viewings (and I intend to have a few) may reveal more to it, I found that the subplot concerning Michael’s family were a little superfluous, and somewhat confusing given how things wind up ending.  It tallies up to about five minutes of the whole film, but it felt a little out of place.  Any sort of character depth given to Clooney by them is ultimately overshadowed by the journey that the main plot takes him through.  They’re not bad scenes, but their function in the overall narrative is unclear.

But all the same, it’s a compelling story that’s told incredibly well.  And really, what else can I ask for in a movie?  It’s easy to dismiss it as just another legal thriller on paper, but on screen, it’s hard to ignore.

A-