4/5 Dir John Hamburg UK (18+) It’s been a steady rise to the top for Paul Rudd, from the teen heart-throbbery of Clueless to Lisa Kudrow’s arm candy in Friends, and from thankless sidekick roles for Judd Apatow to his starring turn in last year’s Role Models. And on the strength of his performance in I Love You, Man, it couldn’t happen to a more deserving chap: as Peter Klaven, the friendless ladies’ man on the lookout for a suitable best man for his upcoming nuptials, Rudd displays a rare comic sophistication and matinée charm.
The rest of the film doesn’t really measure up. The concept is solid, applying rusty romcom clichés to a tale of new-found masculine buddydom, although the plot is scatty, at least until Sydney – Jason Segel’s alpha male – arrives to shake Peter out of his premarital complacency.
But a film like I Love You, Man stands or falls on the strength of its characters. With scene-stealing appearances from the likes of JK Simmons and Jon Favreau, writer-director John Hamburg and his co-author Larry Levin cram the film with the kind of memorable, absurd cameos that betray Levin’s former employment as a Seinfeld writer. In less sure hands this parade of oddities could have become tiresome. Which only makes Rudd’s central performance more impressive, holding the entire edifice together by sheer force of personality. Tom Huddleston Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore.
3/5 Dir Judd Apatow US (18+) There’s an epidemic sweeping Hollywood. Call it ‘The Tarantino Effect’ or ‘Peter Jackson’s Syndrome’: as soon as a struggling director gets a whiff of success, they splurge out on that lavish, long-cherished personal project, be it ice-skating gorillas or an entire afternoon’s worth of Uma Thurman in a yellow jumpsuit. Judd Apatow deserves his bite at the cherry: The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up sparked a revolution in American comedy, bringing charm, insight and fun back to a genre dominated by joyless fratboy antics. But were audiences really clamouring for a two-and-a-half hour Adam Sandler movie? In Funny People, Sandler is front and centre (isn’t he always?) as George Simmons, a legend of stand-up gone to seed in a succession of mainstream money-spinners. Diagnosed with a fatal blood disorder, he hires budding comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) as his assistant, and tries to work out where his life went off the rails.
There’s much more to Funny People than a brief synopsis can contain, including a great deal of soul-searching and self-exploration as well as righteous gags and celebrity cameos (Eminem! Sarah Silverman! James Taylor?). And that’s the problem: there’s too much here for one movie. Apatow’s plotting, so streamlined in the past, has become flabby and undisciplined, as what seems to be a straightforward tale of mortality and redemption gradually becomes bogged down by unnecessary characters and outright schmaltz, staggering to an unsatisfying conclusion. This is a generous, goodhearted, enjoyable movie, loaded with memorable characters and genuine wit. But there’s such a thing as giving a little too much. Tom Huddleston Dhs85 at Virgin Megastore.