[ed. note: With Adam Sandler's new film Just Go With It hitting theaters this week, we've been locked in a debate over Sandler's best. After some shouting and even a passionate defenses of 50 First Dates, we decided to take the discussion to you guys, with each of us picking a day to present our argument for Sandler's absolute best movie. Katey Rich argued for 1998's The Wedding Singer and yesterday Eric Eisenberg stuck up for 2002's Punch Drunk Love; today we're moving on to another Sandler effort toward drama, Funny People.]
At the heart of Funny People lies a devastating truth known only to those of us foolish enough to care about comedy: the funnier you get, the harder it is to laugh. Most people can just guffaw without thinking twice about what it means, but the comedian, whether he be amateur or professional, has to worry about word order, tone of voice and follow-up. George Simmons knows. He ponders just that while listening to an old recording of himself prank calling a deli, disguising his voice as that of an old woman. Comedy has become a business, a carefully rehearsed string of repetitive, caricatured faces that robotically please the masses. He can’t be that goofy kid anymore, at least not for anyone except the one that got away. Laura was his fiancé. She’s married now, but she’s also the only tangible link to the kid on the recording. Making the faces for her isn’t work.
Anyone who’s ever been the class clown and got tired of making those faces knows the pain behind George Simmons’ eyes and the desperation behind his quest to win Laura back. To be the life of the party means to be that guy, and that guy isn’t a real person. He’s a facsimile of well-oiled goofiness crafted when the approval of others meant everything. Sooner or later, it doesn’t mean shit. The crowd just wants to hear your greatest hits. In the end, the crowd is meaningless. It’s the single familiar giggle in a room full of faceless bellows that matters. George would make all the funny faces in the world to see her smile one more time.
Picking Funny People as your favorite Adam Sandler movie is a bit like willfully playing chaperone at a slumber party. It’s more fun to be Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore, but it’s also less rewarding. Sandler is brilliant here, not only as George Simmons the comedian, but George Simmons the celebrity, George Simmons the asshole and George Simmons the friend. Watch how he deftly commands the room during the dinner party scene at Ira’s, then belittles his friend for being just an employee after the meltdown at Laura’s. He’s as affable as they come, but it takes work to be the George Simmons everyone else wants to see. Sometimes that work just doesn’t feel worth it, unless it’s for Laura.
"I've always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling."
--Hunter S. Thompson
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[Watch for more Adam Sandler's Best Movie arguments coming later this week right here.]
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