THE PLANK AUGUST 3, 2009
This post contains spoilers: Do not read if you plan on seeing Funny People.
People are allowed to disagree about movies or books or plays or television shows. In fact, spirited debate about artistic efforts is one of life's pleasures. Therefore, even though I disagree with Manohla Dargis' lukewarm review of Funny People, I do not begrudge her for liking the movie less than I did (Chris' more positive (and insightful) take is close to my own). However, after reading Dargas, one wonders whether she actually paid any attention to the movie she was reviewing. I am reminded of Andrew Breitbart's remarks on Gran Torino, in which he argued that the film could be summed up as "Dirty Harry blows away political correctness, takes on the bad guys, and turns a boy into a man in the process." This was less silly than simply wrong. Anyway, here is Dargis:
There’s something irritatingly self-satisfied about Funny People, which explains why, though it glances on the perils of fame, it mostly affirms its pleasures...Mr. Apatow seems to have become uncomfortable with or perhaps immune to the messiness of life. This, he seems to be saying, is as good as it gets, and man, is it ever good. He’s sentimentalized himself.
That’s nice, I suppose, but nice can be murder on comedy and drama alike. (Comedy is a man in trouble, not a man at peace with himself.)...Watching “Funny People,” you get the sense that Mr. Apatow, one of the most successful filmmakers working in Hollywood, is very happy. Bummer.
I can think of plenty of criticisms of the movie, but these ones are bizarre. Is Dargis saying that Sandler's character is at peace with himself? And, moreover, that this film is the work of a director who seems satisfied with life?
Dargis has one other criticism, which is not only misguided but also manages to partially contradict the quote above. She writes:
As is true of almost all the female characters in Mr. Apatow’s movies, Laura’s role is to help George grow up, to get out of both his own head and insular masculine world. Yet while this dynamic worked in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and to a lesser extent in “Knocked Up,” in this movie the romantic complications are primarily situational: she’s married. Honor, rather than George’s ego (it isn’t in remission) stands in their way, which gives him — and Mr. Apatow — an easy out.
I disagree strongly with Dargis' sketch of the Laura character (played by Leslie Mann), but no matter. Notice what Dargis claims is the big stumbling block to the Sandler-Mann romance: Honor. Sandler's ego is just as large a problem as it was at the start of the film! This of course does not jibe at all with her earlier claim that everyone was happy and that all was well in Apatow's universe. At the end of the film, Sandler is still an egotistical jerk. This is the point of the movie--and it's one reason that Apatow deserves credit for trying to do something interesting with the genre he has practically created.