Opens September 10, 2009
Writer/director/producer Judd Apatow has made quite the name for himself as a maker of hilariously loose comedies, written with a lot of heart. From The 40-Year Old Virgin to Knocked Up, Apatow has solidified his presence – and his fanbase – amongst the cynics of Tinsel Town. Funny People, is easily his most ambitious and very probably his most personal. It is the story of George Simmons (Adam Sandler) a comedian dealing with his impending mortality and the ripple effect this has on people in his life, most notably his assistant (Seth Rogan) and the girl-that-got-away (Leslie Mann).
Funny People is certainly a love letter to comedians – those crazy, competitive, penis-joke happy bunch – both past, present and future. The list of cameos is impressive, and the scene where Eminem has a go at Ray Romano is one of many in-jokes. However this film – at over 2 hours – is by no means wall to wall laughs, instead it is quite a serious look at death, loneliness, narcissism, and in the final act, a rather overly sentimentalised portrait of family.
For the most part Funny People is richer for this depth, and certainly the actors make a meal of the material. Adam Sandler is fearless, rivalling his turn in Punch Drunk Love, while great performances abound with Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman and a scene-stealing (nay, rescuing) Eric Bana in a welcomed return to comedy.
At its core, Funny People is about the importance of friendship. The film opens with real footage of Sandler making prank calls; he and his friends in stitches. It is this comradery, this community that Apatow so wonderfully captures. Like jazz-musicians, he and his cast riff on what it is to be funny – in its notes both high and low.
Three Blind Mice
Released September 5, 2009
Showing every Friday night at the Chauvel Cinema.
Three soldiers have a night ashore before they ship off to Iraq. In the course of 12 hours, they deal with residual tensions from an on-board disciplinary action (read: fragging) that has left one of them traumatised, another guilty, and the third disillusioned. Being Australian men, they don’t sit around agonising about it, they hit the town for some distraction – lead by the intrepid womaniser (but secretly sensitive) Harry (Matt Newton).
Three Blind Mice is a great debut feature: well made, careful and considered, but made as though it were on a shoe-string, with hand-held cameras and performances that almost feel improvised.
Writer/Director/actor Matt Newton has written a great script, high on social observation and humour, and displaying an unusual knack for conversational dialogue. Given the serious underlying themes of war, betrayal, loyalty, I was actually surprised to find myself laughing almost the entire way through – which is part of the film’s charm: it layers its message through slices of recognisable everyday situations and conversations.
Newtown has also cast his debut feature perfectly from amongst his peers, including thesps Toby Schmitt and Ewen Leslie, and his former girlfriend Gracie Otto. Anyone who has seen an STC or Belvoir production in the last year, know that Leslie and Schmidt can act – but it is Otto who is so darn sweet on screen. Shy awkwardness mixed with sly sex appeal, tomboy tomfoolery – she grows on you as the film progresses.
Of course the real beating heart of the film is Ewen Leslie’s vulnerability as Sam, who may turn out to be the strongest one of the lot.
The film is also padded out with some whole-hearted cameo performances by Marcus Graham, Alex Dimitriades, Barry Otto, Brendan Cowell and the late Bud Tingwell.
The way the film is shot allows emotional intimacy and the feeling of spontaneity and even danger (or at least tension), while actually being very well thought-out and executed, by recent AFTRS graduate Hugh Miller (Solo, Two Fists One Heart).