Somewhere in Funny People, there's a pretty good comedy. Too bad, like a stand-up trying out material, Judd Apatow's film wanders off subject at times and then ends up lingering too long.
Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, a onetime stand-up who inexplicably has become amazingly successful by starring in a bunch of dumb Hollywood high-concept comedies. (I know what you're thinking.) When George finds he has a rare blood disease, he realizes he doesn't have much of a life. In fact, his biggest pleasure seems to be in watching himself on all his big-screen TVs.
The insistence of morality (and loneliness) leads the star to hire an assistant, would-be comic Ira (Seth Rogen), as he pursues an experimental treatment. But years of being a narcissistic S.O.B. are ingrained in George, so taking advantage of Ira, who was working at a deli and is just dying to get in the business, comes easy to him.
There are a number of amusing bits in Funny People, and watching comics schmooze, offer fake compliments to one another and stab one another in the back has a certain ring of truth to it.
If Funny People had stuck to George and Ira's relationship, it might have been a neat little film, but Apatow wanted a bigger canvas, and that meant George had to be self-reflective about his past and the one who got away. She's Laura (played by Apatow's wife, Leslie Mann), now married and with kids. This trip ends up predictably, though not without laughs.
Another problem is that Sandler isn't convincing when it comes to the serious stuff. George isn't a likable guy, but he has to be a bit more human.
Rogen, though, makes the transition from comic to serious much easier.
There's nothing wrong with Apatow's ambitions. He clearly wants a more complex portrait of the business he loves in Funny People. But as nasty as George is, Apatow's a bit too nice about it, and that's not always funny.
Funny People retails for $29.98, $39.95 on Blu-ray.