An Adam Sandler Flop Is Getting A Second Chance On Streaming

By Nathan Kamal | 1 month ago

Adam Sandler

Adam Sandler is one of the great conundrums of Hollywood. After breaking out on Saturday Night Live as one of the stars of its 1990s “bad boy” period alongside Chris Farley, Mike Myers, and Dana Carvey, he immediately had a run of commercially successful, critically panned movies like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Waterboy. He was pretty much pegged as a performer who leaned into loud characters and repeating gags in his movies, and everyone seemed fine with that. Then he started making surprisingly nuanced turns in movies like The Wedding Singer and Punch-Drunk Love. But where many comedic stars might use that critical regard to boost themselves as a dramatic actor, Adam Sandler has repeatedly swung back and forth between his comedic lows, dramatic highs, comedic highs, and dramatic lows. There’s no pinning him down. One of Adam Sandler’s rare commercial flops and one of his most critically well-regarded films is currently in the top ten most-watched movies on Hulu: Judd Apatow’s Funny People

funny people eric bana

Funny People stars Adam Sandler as George Simmons, a former star of stand-up turned star of bad, suspiciously-Sandler-like movies. Seth Rogen co-stars as Ira Wright, the polar opposite of George on the Los Angeles comedy food chain. Ira works at a deli (alongside Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA in scene-stealing mode), performs mediocre standup, and has a passive-aggressive competitive relationship with his roommates and fellow comics. Initially, Funny People moves quickly. It establishes that Adam Sandler’s character is diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia with a single-digit percent chance of remission. In an emotionally vulnerable state, he decides to spend his remaining time on Earth back doing stand-up and hires Ira as his personal assistant basically due to happenstance.

Adam Sandler funny people

This would be a fairly basic set-up for an Adam Sandler movie: an older, grouchy character takes a young, naive one under his wing, but it turns out that the young one has just as much to teach about life and not being an emotionally repressed, friendless millionaire in a vast Malibu mansion. But that’s not what Funny People really is. Halfway through the movie, Adam Sandler’s cancer goes into remission. He views this as a second chance to reconnect with his ex-fiancée, Laura (Leslie Bibb), except that she is married with children. Things don’t go well, for the most part. Rather than learning from each other in a narratively fulfilling way, Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen both grow as people and remain their essentially self-centered, narcissistic selves. It is not what we are trained to expect in an Adam Sandler movie, and audiences were predictably not enthused.

seth rogen

Writers-director Judd Apatow conceived Funny People as a fictionalized version of his own experiences as a struggling stand-up, which must have felt far removed from his status as Hollywood’s reigning king of comedy in the early 2000s. The only problem was that he wanted to write a movie involving a comedic mentor, and he didn’t have any conflict to work with there. So he recruited his former roommate Adam Sandler to punch it up and spent several years developing the idea. Given the respective living legends of comedy statuses in Hollywood, they were able to have the pick of the litter when it came to comedy stars, which explains why Jason Schwartzman, Jonah Hill, Ray Romano, Bo Burnham, Kyle Kinane, and far too long of a list of people appear in Funny People. 

Adam Sandler

Funny People ended up grossing $71 million against a $75 million budget. For comparison, Adam Sandler’s immediately preceding star vehicle, the instantly forgotten Bedtime Stories, made over $200 million against an equivalent budget. Similarly, Judd Apatow’s previous directorial effort, Knocked Up, had made nearly $220 million against $25 million. This was not a success by either of their standards and while critics generally praised Sandler and Rogen’s performances, the meandering two and half hour runtime and inside-baseball examination of L.A. comedy didn’t really land there either. 

But at the end of the day, Funny People is one of Adam Sandler’s most interesting performances. It is difficult not to see the fictional George Simmons as a thinly-veiled version of Sandler; on the other hand, Sandler has been married with children for nearly twenty years and famously has a close-knit group of friends that star with him in his movies. The weird draw of Funny People is that it feels so close to who Adam Sandler might be, but isn’t fooling audiences what good acting does? The movie is confusing and long and more than a bit navel-gazing, but that doesn’t seem to stop audiences from streaming it when Bedtime Stories, Click, and Spanglish have all been forgotten.