The XX Factor

Why I Loved “Funny People”

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat writes a defense of Judd Apatow’s Funny People as a kind of “realistic morality play,” claiming Apatow for the social conservatives. I too loved Funny People , but precisely because its morality was so limited. Most of his other movies involve a move toward redemption. You get a girl pregnant, you step up and do the right thing. You’re stuck in an extended childhood, you find a good woman and marry her. Funny People involves an extended flirtation with redemption. Adam Sandler’s character almost finds love, almost becomes a family man, almost becomes ennobled by suffering.

But then Apatow rejects all those options. The whole storyline is an extended tease of both his conservative defenders and of Hollywood studio heads, who must have been sweating when they watched the last half. In the end he doesn’t die with dignity, get his girl, or adopt a child. He decides to hang out with his buddy, perfecting dick jokes.

This is not especially “moral,” unless one’s sense of morality involves a very limited possibility of change. Douthat writes that in this movie, “doing the wrong things for too long has significant consequences.” But that’s not really true either. By the end it seems obvious that Sandler’s character, like Apatow himself, never really wanted to live that suburban idyll. Yes, this makes the movie insular, self-referential, and a little cold-blooded . But it seems perfectly true to the Apatow worldview.

Publicity still of Judd Apatow’s Funny People courtesty of Universal Pictures.