Guest poster Sunrise Tippeconnie is a filmmaker currently living in Oklahoma City. He is an old friend of the candler blog who also dabbles in film criticism and history. You can read more of his work in Sooner Cinema: Oklahoma Goes to the Movies. We hope to see more of Sunrise on the candler blog in the future.
There are three questions that immediately come up about this picture. 1. Is it a “passing of the torch” film? 2. Is it film a masterpiece? 3. Is it funny?
Let’s answer the last question first. Funny People is exactly what the title suggests, it is about people, and not about being funny. To be direct, the film is funny but it is definitely not a [traditional] comedy. In fact the concept of the film being a comedy (specifically a crossbreed of two subgenres: the Adam Sandler and the Judd Apatow comedy) is a complex idea that reaches into anthropologic study in the vein of the Hal Ashby’s Being There. Sandler’s character George Simmons finds out in one of the first (and almost rushed) scenes at blank range that he has cancer. Comedy and death immediately call up another analysis of a comedic master: Chaplin in Monsiuer Verdoux (and we all know how the audience loved that film, despite it’s ranking as a masterpiece).
Yet, while the themes of death reign, Apatow’s analysis yields that being a star in the Hollywood system provides no success in finding the “happy ending” designed in any of the films actually made within it. In fact, any happy ending that resides within Funny People is tragedy in disguise, which of course is the true root of the finest comedy, and just happens to suggest that any “torch-bearing” carries with it the false promises of infinity.
Just as the walls of the film are lined with creative greats from Jimi Hendrix to Rodney Dangerfield, the time of these greats has passed and there will be no other like them. This does not mean that there was any attempt at torch- passing, there might just be someone whom believes that Lenny Kravitz is reincarnation, but most of us do not, and Funny People says that is okay. In fact the film, following the rules of a Sandler comedy, provides great comedian cameos, although they function so much more eloquently: Paul Reiser’s discussion of missed limelight over making his family laugh is no real conflict for him at all, and that in fact reveals the great truth of any Sandler film: life is the most important thing after family.
As Simmons struggles to comprehend the true worth of life, Seth Rogen’s character, Ira Wright, is introduced to these ideas early in his attempts to climb the star ladder so that he can find salvation before falling into the star-fucker trap he sees in his idol Simmons. So to answer the first question: Seth Rogen’s character Ira Wright does not like the choices he must make to survive in the world of successful Hollywood stars, even though he is on the verge of stardom himself. After the end of the film there is a good chance that his character might walk away from the trappings of Hollywood success for things that be believes in more: doing the right thing (which in the case of any Sandler film is proving that solidification of family is more important than any “success” implied by a “happy ending”).
Sandler walking away from this film with no one to carry on a legacy is a hard thing to digest when everyone should be laughing and the set-up suggests such a torch-passing. Cancer is on the mind, and it’s a slow death by show- business. Any implications that someone is going to get laid in the film also carries with it the strain of “star-fucker”, the strange compulsion that copulation with someone famous brings you closer to something infinite. There is literally nothing further than the truth, and every character in the film searches for this physical equivalent for the infinite, when it only resides in a connection that holds no potential for such a “star-fucker” relationship. When the fragile state of Simmons’ and Wright’s friendship comes to terms with the possibility of end, there is no struggle to maintain stardom and the “happy ending” dreams of immortality.
Yet, the final implications of Apatow’s analysis suggests that comedy serves not a as a device for escape from pain, but a constant reminder that these pains are just as much a part of life as the joys that life can bring. Again, the rules of a Sandler picture ring. If his picture can call both the pain and joy to mind over the formalistic and historic properties of comedy (or film), then any Sandler film is a masterpiece. [Of course it’s a little too late to tell you that I am biased about question number two, since “Adam Sandler” is a hero of mine because all his works remind me more about life than anything else (again, like Chaplin). Sorry, question number two was no fair, since it was a trick question.]