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Judd Apatow, Dramatist?

Comedy craftsman's latest marks a slight turn toward the serious, despite the title.

Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in the film.

The new Judd Apatow-directed movie “Funny People” (seen in the Just For Laughs festival’s companion film festival July 25) is actually much more a drama than a comedy, really. There’s plenty of funny dialogue and parts of the story but it really is more about the hearts of the characters who are trying to find their way.

It takes being faced with death for Adam Sandler’s character, George Simmons, to get concerned with trying to do the right thing, or more exactly, trying to live up to being an adult and caring about others in his life. Not exactly light stuff.

But Apatow and company bring the audience into it by putting them in the privileged position of getting a look into the life of a comedy superstar like Sandler. His character is at least outwardly a version of himself in the types of movies and performances he’s seen doing -- like a CGI-dominated movie featuring an adult Sandler’s head on the body of a baby, talking like a baby; and another concept comedy, “Merman,” where effects give Sandler the lower half of a fish.

Of course, even with the palatial estate his stardom has bought him, Simmons/Sandler isn’t happy, semi-showing off to co-star Seth Rogen how easy it is for him to bed two women in one night. Shades of Elvis, athletes and rock stars. But even more directly, scenes where Simmons insist Rogen talk to him as he falls asleep come right out of Elvis’ story, as does Rogen status as Sandler’s joke writer/flunky. Here they serve to make Simmons sympathetic through his vulnerability.

Still, the way the ending plot and emotional/romantic machinations play out is a little overlong, with something missing in the way Leslie Mann, Eric Bana and Adam Sandler play out how they really feel about each other. Mann plays Sandler’s lover from years ago, now married to Bana with two daughters. Maybe the actors actually aren’t onscreen enough during these sequences, as the movie gets caught up in Rogen’s mad pursuit of Mann and Bana to the airport.

“Funny People” has a beating heart to it, although it doesn’t quite reach the all out hilarity, novelty and surprise of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” or “Knocked Up.” Give Apatow credit for crafting another good movie, although let’s hope this doesn’t signal a Woody Allen-esque turn to exclusively serious dramas.

“Funny People” opens wide in theaters Friday, July 31.

Just For Laughs -- Montreal Comedy Festival coverage sponsored by

Eric & LaNita Hazard; Irving & Sonya Rozansky.




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