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Funny People & The Hurt Locker

Directed by Judd Apatow     Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
At first sight, these two movies seem to have little in common, but watching them back-to-back while trying to catch up with the summer’s offerings (damn Festival!) reveals interesting similarities. “Funny People” is the latest from the Judd Apatow machine (‘The 40 Year SuperKnocked Dewey Zohan Step Talladega Express’ or something like that) while “The Hurt Locker” is from Kathryn Bigelow, a dudette who makes movies for dudes (“K-19: The Widowmaker” & “Point Break”).  While I’m on the topic of “Point Break” does anybody know what the dudest of dudes Keanu Reeves was doing in town last week?

Anyway, “Funny People” tells the story of comedian George Simmons, played by Adam Sandler, as a character who could easily be Sandler himself in terms of both the success and choice of projects. George appears to outsiders to have everything in life – a ridiculously large house, assorted expensive cars, and flights on private jets – but he also has a blood disease and a 92% chance of imminent death. Feeling unfunny in his malaise, he hires the younger Ira (Seth Rogan), who idolizes him, to write jokes and to be his assistant.

Part of the appeal of watching “Funny People” is the insider feel as the characters encounter a significant stream of celebrities playing themselves, along with the easy onscreen friendship between Rogan, Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzmann, who play three roommates in varying stages of show business success. Not only do the relationships feel real, but the circumstances feel like those I’ve seen with friends breaking into the industry.

“The Hurt Locker” focuses on a team of bomb disposal experts in Iraq five years ago, facing the constant threat of improvised explosive devices in every unexplored piece of garbage on the trash-lined streets of war-torn Baghdad. The powerful performances are helped by the lack of stellar celebrity of the recognizable but relatively less well known lead actors (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty). This feels more like a character study than it might if one were watching Tom Cruise or Tobey Maguire (both minor punchlines in “Funny People”) defusing bombs.

Like “Funny People,” “The Hurt Locker” works in its depictions of both friendships and acquaintanceships because of the genuineness of the awkward and ugly moments. The verbal sparring is often more harsh than fond, even between buddies. While war is often depicted onscreen as a heroic endeavor, or at least as a series of tense but heroic moments, that’s not the focus here. Instead we see decisions made for many of the wrong reasons. Respect and trust are hard-won victories, not automatic outcomes of shared uniforms and roles.

What both movies have in common are individuals driven by needs so innate they obscure or destroy other pursuits. Most notable among these are personal relationships, both platonic and romantic. Sandler’s character is an inherently lonely man, who has squandered real connections in favor of shallow encounters. He is surrounded by fans and household staff, but nobody who he cares for or who cares about him. Renner’s character has become so good at what he does in the war zone that it makes more sense to him than the normal world. Their decisions and relationships are both driven by adrenaline rushes, whether in the face of high explosives or the explosive highs of fame and fortune.  

There’s an addictive nature to what the movies show us. While the circumstances are extreme in both instances, the phenomena of choosing between career and relationships, or personal satisfaction versus the needs of others are more commonplace. I don’t immediately identify with either profession, but I can identify with the choices involved. I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard.

I enjoyed both movies at both surface and deeper levels, although both switch gears significantly along the way. “The Hurt Locker” has one or two scenes that seem somewhat inconsistent, although to some extent that fits the depiction of the inconsistency of combat.

“Funny People” switches between comedy and drama in a manner that some may find unappealing, especially those who are looking for one but not the other, but it also seems true to life in that regard. Both are journeys of self-discovery that take their central characters through painful introspection and not especially flattering or desirable realizations.

Both movies clock in at well over two hours and I wouldn’t recommend the double-header for any but the most ardent of movieholics, but I would recommend each to people who enjoy movies that package mood swings with a dose of soul-searching.  Neither is especially surprising in their outcomes, but they are less about eventful surprises than about their respective character arcs.


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