Newsday‘s John Anderson has examined the psychology behind the urges of comedians to make “serious” films and therefore achieve a kind of peer validation that never seems to result from being gifted or skilled at making people laugh. All true enough, I suppose, but he uses the piece to basically put down Judd Apatow‘s Funny People as some kind of cathartic exercise rather than a valid and admirable film on its own right, which it fully deserves to be seen as.

And then Anderson doubles-down on dodging the central issue by predicting that typical Apatow fans probably aren’t going to respond as supportively to Funny People as they did to Apatow’s Knocked Up and The 40 Year-Old Virgin, which played a much different game.

These films were warmer and coarser entertainments seeking to entertain. Funny People is an “entertaining” film also but also a significantly more ambitious one that offers up straight-dope story, characters and atmosphere. My reaction was that it seems to be (a) real as hell and (b) coming from an intimate place that Apatow knows quite well. And for this, Anderson seems to be saying , Apatow needs to be taken down for indulging in pretension. Nice.

“In America particularly, success has to be repeatable, lest one risk being dismissed as a failure,” Anderson writes. “And so perfection is pursued until failure is achieved.

“Is that what Apatow’s doing? The qualities of Funny People may be less interesting than what the effort represents. And how it makes fans feel.

“The case of Chaplin’s A Woman of Paris is a classic example: In 1923, Chaplin was free of his earlier contractual obligations, was the biggest star in the world and could do anything he wanted. Did he make the greatest comedy ever made? No,
he made a drama, one with a moral and a message; a good movie, but not what was expected by his fans, who rejected it outright.

“The audience for Apatow films is young, raunchy and attracted by rude humor. A movie about mortality doesn’t seem like the best way into their hearts.”