Judd Apatow summons Adam Sandler’s serious side

Came across this read in today’s NY Times and wanted to share. There’s something intriguing about the idea that funnymen aren’t satisfied with playing for laughs, they feel they have to do something serious to elevate themselves. Sometimes it goes well (see Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show”) and sometimes it does not (don’t see Robin Williams in “What Dreams May Come”), but either way the endeavor usually fizzles when audiences demand an actor return to their “roots.” This summer we’ll see Judd Apatow and Adam Sandler (who are longtime friends, once roommates) tackle the moribund topic of mortality in “Funny People.” Only the heavy theme is couched in a Hollywood context which sometimes means serious subjects are treated with indifference. If anything I suppose it will be fascinating to see how two of Hollywood’s hottest comic talents use comedy to underscore the sadness of a tragic hero.

From the NY Times:

Despite Mr. Apatow’s ubiquity as a producer of sloth-celebrating movies like “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” and a recent spate of comedies about emotionally stunted males (“Role Models,” “I Love You, Man”) that share his influence if not his input, “Funny People” is only the third film that he has directed. But moviegoers expecting a breezy romp in the style of his hit movies “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” had better hold onto their bongs.

In part, the film is about an established comedian (Mr. Sandler) who takes under his wing an insecure neophyte (played by Mr. Apatow’s disciple Seth Rogen). To this extent, the story is inspired by the earliest professional breaks Mr. Apatow received from stars like Garry Shandling, Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold, and how he later returned the favor to emerging talents like Mr. Rogen.

But sensing that his own Horatio Alger-style ascent wouldn’t provide a movie with much tension, Mr. Apatow said, “I thought: What if I did a movie that was like ‘Tuesdays With Morrie,’ but the main character learns nothing?” So, after that sympathetic video introduction to Mr. Sandler’s character, the next scene finds him being informed 22 years later that he has a rare blood disorder with no known treatment. In the time that he believes he has left, he resumes his stand-up career and tries to reconcile with a lost love (Leslie Mann, Mr. Apatow’s wife and a regular in his films).

Asked why, at 41, he would follow movies about sexuality and childbirth with a film about mortality, Mr. Apatow was circumspect. “I’ve unfortunately been around people who have been ill and seen people figure out how to deal with it,” he said. Some, he added, “just keep plowing on forward, and they don’t seem to change.”