Funny People: What James Taylor Said

Dear Millicent,

I waited until seeing Funny People to read your post, and was happy to have it because it aptly sorted through the strange feeling the movie left in my chest. Your notes on the Apatow-Sandler battle royale were particularly compelling.  But I have to ask, what kind of early career struggle did Apatow suffer if Rogen is his avatar?  Rogen’s character is incredibly unpassionate, we see very little of the dark places of creative merit and battle.  We have no idea why he wants to be in comedy, and his “rough breaks” seem to make a lot of sense…he has a crappy day job because he is not yet very good at the thing he dreams to do (if he does indeed dream this). We don’t see him make any sacrifices (no late nights, no incredible leaps of ego or faith).  I offer that Rogen does nail a certain kind of 25.  His floppy hands and toe first walk, along with assumptions that in general the world is a place where there are certain rules–things work out, you don’t fuck with marriages, dying people need to have weepy talks, people are nice and nice matters—creates a softness that I do believe in, and it’s a softness in life (couch crashing, the ideal career around the corner) and spirit (“I did the right thing,” “I can’t talk to girls”).

I saw the movie this morning, the first shift of the theater, and there were six other people in the audience with me.  This might explain why I found the film to be very, very quiet.  I try to think if I would have laughed more if I saw it opening weekend in a theater where they serve drinks…am not sure.  Every joke seemed to have a two second lull before the scene continued, and the film and lighting were sending mixed messages. I kept thinking that it needed a different format, more people to create a crowd, a more natural patter.  I was constantly aware of staging.  The scene at the bar where he celebrates his health felt awkwardly blocked, and I worried for the Swedish doctor, smiling gleefully in the background.  The same happened in the end as a world of extras poorly faked grocery shopping (Which champagne bottle do I want?  What is in this bread after all?).  The stand up scenes felt the most authentically peopled.  Even Leslie Mann’s house, and the Thanksgiving with “friends” had a sterility where I believed very little of it, which is a shame compared to Apatow’s previous efforts, where I was charmed by his ability to richly detail the bleak settings of real life (Rogen’s house in Knocked Up, Carell’s daily ablutions in 40-Year-Old Virgin).  Maybe it was on purpose that every single house was overwrought, at least slightly victim to a zealous interior decorator.  I liked this quality in Sandler’s home, showing the pure shell of his life, but it seemed strange that there was no nest of reality in the whole thing.  Los Angeles is famously soul-sucking, but we’re all still packrats at heart, aren’t we?  The amount of framed comedian portraits in Schwartzman’s apartment was so over the top that while it did sing douchebaggery, I was always looking for an anchor of place for Rogen’s protagonist, and it never came.

It has now become de mode to crack on Apatow for his female characters. Sarah Seltzer at Reality Check does a nice job of parsing this newest addition to the bunch, and I agree with her argument in large strokes.  However, I do think that Apatow is trying on something new for size here.  Even while the women (a mere two, Daisy and Mann), only interact with the men to demonstrate the men’s growth, they are working through their own revolutions.  Unfortunately for Daisy, her deadpan humor is pretty blah and there is little to enjoy in her character except her hot pink skirt (which reminds me of Mann’s jeans, and that the whammy of time is insane in that it’s already the early nineties again…the mom jeans are no longer funny, they are unironic and unmommed).  I guess Apatow has always been decent at giving his female characters careers, so maybe she isn’t super new, except that she is not the same kind of classically sexy lady that Apatow casts.  Mann is also not the typical pedestaled lady, and I think the joke lands on the fact that she is not really a catch after all.  Even in her first scene, where her lipstick is as shiny as her tears, and she blubbers about how hot she was, and how their love was so real, I worried that her character was not a 100% likeable.  When Rogen murmurs “she seems pretty much like a crazy actress to me,” I agreed.  She is as self absorbed as the rest of them (even in her cheating she is the only one to get off), and her insane request to keep Sandler in the house as her marriage falls apart is so reaching and nuts that we lose trust with her.  Of course she freaks out on the way to the airport, her show is almost over.  She is in love with a part of her past, and it’s a past where she has edited out the obnoxious parts.  If she has married a version of George, then why cheat in the first place?   Interestingly, she bemoans her lost career potential, but then we see that she is a very poor actress as she tries to lie to her husband, much like Rogen and his deli job.

I agree with you, the checking the cell phone as SUPERCRIME was a bit much, especially since we have seen no behavior like that before from Sandler, but if Mann is merely upset because he is not paying attention to her, then it makes sense.  I very much like Sandler’s reaction to the song.  The juxtaposition of age there is funny, and everybody in the room should haven known that. We know Sandler has a musical heart from his sappy anger at the earlier playlist Rogen makes him.  But, he says “You can see the period coming” for the older daughter, which makes the audience lose faith with him …it’s a mean line and we know it’s not going to work from that. Apparently, there were scenes cut that show Sandler realizing the work of the kids while Rogen goes out for ciggarettes, and deciding to call the whole thing off.  Perhaps it is one more time where he chooses the illusion (the paid for band, etc.) over the work of a life.  Or maybe it is a bleaker analysis: the real work of life is only tolerable when you can see the exit door, and when you are rich and healthy you can avoid the real work pretty easily.

My overall impression is that I know Apatow and his crew sweated over this movie, and with all of the sweat, I am surprised that this is the final product.  There is a sharper, sleeker beast somewhere in there, but it hasn’t surfaced in this arrangement.  Everything seems muted, blanketed, and ultimately like Jason Schwartzman’s character, apartment, and dress: pretty pleased, artificially lived in, and smugly superficial (this movie wants to sleep with you in ten days).   But he is a joke.  The movie is not.

Last thought in this ramble of minutiae,  the amount of penis jokes were so constant that I couldn’t help but think of our earlier discussions of Penvy.There are two female responses in the movie, one is Daisy’s “I have a skinny vagina,” which is kind of weak sauce, and then there is Sarah Silverman’s facial rendering of her vagina, which was funny but hard to expand on.  Not sure what to do with this.  I’m thinking our dicks might be our popularity…instead of “only a man with a gigantic cock could grow roses like that,” “You charming bitch, only a real wit could grow roses like that that.” It needs work.

Yours,

CF

PS: With Julie and Julia out this summer, I have to ask if Apatow is an evolution and inverse of Ephron…15 years ago her films about gender relations swung the other way…not familial commitment as much as true love, with women overcoming fear and learning to let love in while the men were often flat characters to serve that purpose.

PPS: In response to Rogen asking “Do you get tired of always singing the same songs?” James Taylor responds “Do you get tired of talking about your dick?”

One Response to Funny People: What James Taylor Said

  1. Millicent says:

    “There is a sharper, sleeker beast somewhere in there, but it hasn’t surfaced in this arrangement. Everything seems muted, blanketed, and ultimately like Jason Schwartzman’s character, apartment, and dress: pretty pleased, artificially lived in, and smugly superficial (this movie wants to sleep with you in ten days). But he is a joke. The movie is not.”

    This is just dead-on.

    And I think you’re right about Apatow being the backlash to Ephron. Even When Harry Met Sally is ultimately about Sally’s wish-fulfillment and self-realization. Apatow is the dudely Ephron in one respect–all his women are the equivalents of Bill Pullman in Sleepless in Seattle (or Greg Kinnear in You’ve Got Mail). The difference is that in Ephron’s oeuvre these guys are snorefests, but they’re just as clearly mistakes. They’re not The Answer. Ephron’s fantasy, however false its foundation, is that there is an Answer, and it comes in trousers with lots of charm and nary a fundamental flaw.

    What’s scary about Apatow is that he aims lower. This is supposed to be more realistic, but his realism is oddly just as misogynistic as Ephron’s flat male dreamboats are misandric. Apatow’s problem is that he fails to see these women as mistakes. In Ephron, they’d be the preludes to the Real Relationship that Allows the Protagonist Access to abstractions like truth and happiness. Here, they’re (chillingly) All There Is.

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