About an hour into "Funny People," the thought started creeping into my head.
"This is the best movie I've seen this year."
And indeed it was. It was raucously funny, sharp, poignant, featured good performances, and balanced multiple plot points like it was a circus performer.
But there's a point where something big happens, and the wheels just fall off.
The film centers around comedian George Simmons (Adam Sandler), a comedian/movie star who has grown comfortably numb with his fame. He drifts through his life, which is mostly a giant house full of TVs and jet skis and iPods he has never even opened, and women who want him for the story it'll give them later on.
When he finds out he has a rare form of leukemia (with a treatment regimen that leaves him an 8% chance of surviving), George decides to spend his last days going back to his roots, performing stand-up.
Then he meets aspiring comic Ira Wright (Seth Green), likes his stuff, and hires him to first write jokes for him, then be his assistant, fetching his coffee, booking gigs, and talking him to sleep at night.
Early on the film is very good. There's a tremendous scene where George wanders into the doctor's office, stopping to shake hands, take photos, and speak with fans. Then he gets the bad news, and wanders back out in a haze as public adoration becomes an onslaught.
The first part of the film tells a grand tale about a famous person living with a death sentence hanging over his head and his (perhaps subconscious) choice to help a new generation of comedian get a foothold. George gruffly mentors Ira, even as he tells him he won't, giving Ira opportunities first to write jokes for him at a corporate gig at MySpace, then giving Ira the chance to do his own act (in a funny scene that features a James Taylor cameo using language you just don't image James Taylor using).
"Funny People" is full of fantastic cameos, from Taylor to a host of comics from Paul Reiser and George Mitchell to Sarah Silverman (and a terrific exchange between Eminem and Ray Romano).
It's also wickedly self-referential, from those cameos to using real-life Sandler home videos at the film's outset to jokes about Rogen's weight loss.
Director Judd Apatow, who has directed three films but has been involved making a dozen or so or some of the better comedies of the past several years ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and"Superbad," to name two), was hitting on all cylinders.
But the film shifts focus from the comedians to George's love life and his attempts to reconnect with the girlfriend he blew it with years earlier (Leslie Mann).
She moved on, getting married to "The Australian George Simmons" (Eric Bana) and having kids (Mann and Apatow's real-life progeny Iris and Maude Apatow), and eventually George and Ira venture up to her home in San Francisco, and the film becomes a mediation on whether the "embrace the now" attitude should apply when doing so tears an established, relatively happy family apart.
It's jarringly, ploddingly tangential and brings the film to a screeching halt, pushing several promient characters and subplots to the back burner. It's as if Apatow finished the film, then decided his wife and kids need a lot more screen time, and just pastes it on the end.
The film runs about 2 hours, 30 minutes, and would have been a much better film had they shaved off at least 30 minutes (probably a bit more).
As it stands, "Funny People" is a good film that coulda, woulda, shoulda (heck, it was) been a great on.