You know Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up) by now. You remember the 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) yelling "Kelly Clarkson!" when hot wax ripped the full-court muff of hair off his back. You remember in Knocked Up (2007) the borderline obscene impersonation of Stephen Hawking in a hijacked hospital wheel-chair. And you know Apatow's go-to actors: Seth Rogan (Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) and Jonah Hill (Superbad, Knocked Up).
In funny People, those two are brought together with Adam Sandler (You Don't Mess with the Zohan, Bedtime Stores) and Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story); a cast that seems tailor made for Apatow's brand of humour: using subjects people take seriously and introducing some serious levity.
Sandler did the same in his early days on SNL (Saturday Night Live) where he'd offer comedy stripped to the bone. So broken down that the discomfort he made viewers feel became the perfect set-up for explosions of laughter brought on by only a small crack of a smile or perfectly placed potty humour.
Judd Apatow has made a career of luring audiences into seeming dramatic tension only to blow it wide open with expletives and rough and blunt (no pun intended) descriptions of genitalia. It's amped up catharsis that finds me locked in muted laughter, wide, toothy smile pressing back on my ears, chin buried in my neck, silently convulsing in hilarity.
But that's me. I take personal offence to hipsters wearing black, thick-rimmed glasses who attack these kinds of movies on the merits of their storyline or the intelligence of their comedic content. The brilliance of this comedy lies, not in the meaning of what is said, but in how effectively it elicits the intended response. This is the new comedy championed by Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat, Bruno), Will Farrell (Step Brothers, Land of the Lost), and movie makers like Judd Apatow.
But it is because Apatow seems to have lost sight of this purpose that funny People falters. This style of humour works because the situations and characters act only as fodder or platform for the jokes that are told, and because of this are meant to be taken lightly or discarded. But Apatow takes on subjects too heavy, invests them with too much meaning for the comedy to float light and airy over the storyline beneath, for the audience to enjoy the laughs without having to necessarily critically engage with the story's content and intent.
Questions are raised that the audience can't ignore and naturally look to the movie to answer. But instead of chewing thoroughly the mouthful he's bit off, Apatow leaves his characters flat and his ending limp and unfulfilling. He should be thankful that potty humour is the universal salve for disappointment.
So go for the laughs, and they are big. Revel in the muck of F-bombs and senior citizen masturbation, but check your expectations of worthwhile drama at the door.