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A Movie Full of <i>Funny People</i>, and Amazingly, Adam Sandler is One of Them

Meta is the new black. How else do you explain the runaway success of 30 Rock, which stars Tina Fey and Tracy Morgan as the writer and star of a variety show? Or Jean-Claude Van Damme playing a down-and-out version of himself in JCVD? Or Paul Giamatti playing a jaded actor named Paul Giamatti in the movie Cold Souls? You can't, can you? Well, director Judd Apatow has harnessed the power of meta for his own ends in Funny People, and thanks to an amazing supporting cast and liberal use of the word "cock," he seems to have opened some sort of bizarre rift in space and time and made Adam Sandler funny again.

The trick, you see, is to break down everything that Adam Sandler was. So he cast Sandler as George Simmons, a wealthy comedian who started out in stand-up, but made a killing doing stupid movies that adults and kids inexplicably love. The movies are all made-up, but we're clearly supposed to think that they're stupid, formulaic movie ideas -- in other words, similar to half of Sandler's output over the past decade. Granted, a few of them we'd actually consider seeing: the Owen Wilson buddy picture My Best Friend is a Robot, for instance, or The Mistake, a wedding comedy whose poster shows bride Elizabeth Banks clinging to Sandler as he mimes shooting himself. (We don't get to see footage of those, sadly, but we do see a clip from the self-explanatory Mer-Man, also starring Banks.) It would be easy to say that Simmons is nothing like Sandler, except that he likes watching old home movies and tapes of himself doing comedy, and whoever he is now, when he was younger he was definitely Adam Sandler.

So you've got Sandler playing Sandler, who lives an empty existence in an empty house with a lot of acquaintances but no friends. ("Andy Dick is a guy you know, he's not a friend.") But he has sex with lots of women, and that seems to get him through it, at least until he gets the blood disease that sends him into a depression and drives him to take the stage again and talk. Not about what's wrong with him, though; he just sort of melts down in public hinting that the audience is going to miss him when he's gone, and that they ask too much of him. When struggling comedian Ira Wright nervously mocks him on stage after his set, Simmons Sandler reaches out and asks him to write him some jokes and become his assistant and be his friend (although Sandler will never admit that), and the rest is movie history.

This film (this long, long film) is pretty unique in what it does, although it might fall short of making actual history. What it does is take a sappy tearjerker plot and throw in enough curses and discussion of penises to turn it into a raunchy comedy. It takes a lot of penises -- you could say that it takes a village of penises -- but after two and a half hours, it gets there. And it's helped along by about 50 of the funniest actors and stand-ups working today (you can see a list of them here). Apatow tried something similar in Knocked Up, but not as successfully as here, mainly because Katherine Heigl is the opposite of comedy. She's like a comedy dampener that turns jokes into a muffled hum. Leslie Mann, meanwhile, is pure comedy, which must be why Apatow married her -- to feed off of the comedy that oozes out of her pores, and later, their children's pores. (Mark my words -- Apatow's kids are getting better and better with every film they do.)

Rogen is incredibly naive and innocent and likeable as a comedian just starting out, and Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman as his roommates are deliciously, intentionally insensitive in their discussions of their successes. Eric Bana shows his comedy roots as Mann's Aussie husband, and even Andy Dick gets off a few good ones when Sandler finally breaks down and has him over for a heart-to-heart. That's right, Andy Dick is also funny in this movie. I'm telling you, it's a rip in time.

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