Apatow’s obvious model here is Terms of Endearment and Broadcast News director James L. Brooks, who gets a thanks in the end credits and whose last two films, As Good As It Gets and Spanglish, were as phony through and through as Funny People is in its lesser moments. But where Apatow falls short of Brooks is in his desire to redeem all his characters, to forgive even the worst behavior, and to send everyone—onscreen and in the audience—home happy. A movie that strives to convey the depth of feeling and the range of emotion that Funny People so clearly does badly needs at least one moment of cruelty comparable to the fake tears of William Hurt’s reporter in Broadcast News, or the betrayal of Nick Nolte’s over-the-hill film star by a bubbly young assistant in I’ll Do Anything. Apatow has plenty of opportunities, but the closest he comes—a scene in which George callously checks his cell phone, while Laura is held tearfully rapt by a family home video—makes only a softball impact (though it might have made a bigger one if we felt there was more at stake for the characters). For a movie with countless dick jokes and in which the final clearly audible word of dialogue is “balls,” you wish that Apatow’s own cojones were a wee bit bigger.
Funny People was written and directed by Judd Apatow; and stars Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman. Rated R. Countywide.