Writer-celeb Adam Sandler and writer-director Judd Apatow go way back. Twenty years ago the star, 43 next month, and the filmmaker, 41, roomed together in Los Angeles while trying to crack the fortress that is Hollywood. Videotapes of prank calls they made then open Funny People, Apatow's portrait of an uber-successful comedian without intimates (Sandler) who hires an adoring fan and aspiring comedian (Seth Rogen) to nurse him through a health crisis and write material for him. Is Funny People funny? I laughed, I cringed. (I was supposed to, I think.)
Going in (something of a slog, considering the trailer for the film was an object lesson in too much information), I wondered how Sandler's persona of the passive-aggressive eternal boy would mesh with Apatow's theme of the arrested-development male (see 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up) trying to evolve. Coming out, I'm not sure if it was a mesh or a partially-successful graft.
Whichever, my respect for Sandler as an actor continues to grow. Funny People gives him the scope to consistently surprise the audience with unmodulated anger and elastic voice. He has more colors in his performance than just blue (as in moroseness and profanity). Unbelievably, in 15 years he's made more than 20 feature films ranging from the juvenilia of Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore to the youthful romanticism of The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates to the moody, broody man-on-edge in Punch-Drunk Love and Reign Over Me. The performance that best reflects all these different facets of the Sandler persona is his role in Spanglish. Still, I wish he would ditch gratuitous remakes like Mr. Deeds and The Longest Yard to develop material that challenges him as an actor. BTW, while I thought I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry was strained, I laughed myself silly through You Don't Mess With the Zohan. Your thoughts on Sandler? Apatow? Funny People? Sharing too much information in a movie trailer?