We found ourselves plenty surprised by Judd Apatow’s Funny People. Apologies to our own Rex Reed—whose vitriol over the film was epic in its proportions—but it wasn’t nearly as bad as we had anticipated. Quite the opposite, in fact: We sneaky loved it! Funny People was vicious, biting, messy and altogether human. And that prohibitive and much debated length wasn’t all that prohibitive at all. (Though, truth be told, Mr. Apatow could have saved about 10 minutes if he had excised the unnecessary and distracting celebrity cameos—James Taylor and Eminem have as much range as Mr. Apatow’s pre-teen daughters.) That being said, for us, the biggest shocker of all was how Eric Bana stole the movie from his, ostensibly, funnier co-stars.
Anyone who has read Mr. Bana’s IMDb mini-biography knows that the square-jawed Australian actor made a name in his native land by being a comedian. He even had his very own series, The Eric Bana Show Live, and was famous for doing—gasp!—celebrity impressions. Here in America, however, Mr. Bana has been asked to almost exclusively play earnest and serious leading men in films like Troy, Hulk, Munich and the upcoming adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife. Even in this May’s bubblegum science fiction smash, Star Trek—hey, remember when that was the movie of the summer?—he barely got to do anything other than snarl as the Romulan villain; Kahn, he was certainly not.
It’s all different in Funny People, though, where Mr. Bana is simply a revelation. That he doesn’t show up until nearly 90 minutes into the film is, in hindsight, one of our biggest complaints with the finished product. As Clarke, the disenchanted and disingenuous husband to Leslie Mann’s Laura, Mr. Bana basically murders in every scene he appears and winds up blowing both Seth Rogen and Adam Sandler off the screen in terms of bringing the funny. Acting in his native accent, a rarity here for Mr. Bana, he’s sharp, quick, unpredictable and, ultimately, quite sympathetic in his own misguided way. (The secret about Funny People is that it’s filled with some of the most unsympathetic characters we’ve seen in a major release in quite some time; we think this is a good thing.)
Because the final box office tally for Funny People might wind up on the short side of tepid, we’re not quite sure Mr. Apatow’s ultimately ambitious film will break through in the Oscar race. (Don’t fool yourself: For major releases, box office matters to the Academy.) But, all things being equal, Mr. Bana should get serious Oscar consideration for a Best Supporting Actor nomination come next January. As it turns out, he’s the funniest person in Funny People.