Funny People features Adam Sandler playing a fictionalised version of himself, a past-his-prime comedian and movie star who gets by because fans still recognise him from that movie where he played the merman or the adult baby, and are waiting around for a sequel. He rose from the ashes of a comedy club where guys like Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen are still desperately flapping their wings, and hoping their material mostly consisting of fart jokes and masturbation will be the key to stardom. You see the common ground for the subject matter, you see Judd Apatow directing, and recall Sandler's past resume, and you think to yourself that this won't be a classy movie, nevertheless a good one. But Apatow's intent isn't to sanitise the juvenile trash that these comedians draw upon, but rather use it as a roadmap to their developing emotional maturity. Their routines are a reflection of their sad and often pathetic lives - for Ira losing weight and yet still unable to get a date, and for George a string of meaningless one night stands and a mountain of shiny trinkets ala Citizen Kane.
It's not until near the end of the movie that their comedy ceases to be an extension of their failings, no longer a crutch for them to poke fun at their themselves and their lack of purpose. It's no surprise that much of the early humour between the two leads is focused almost entirely on the size of their packages; masculinity in a neat and objective measure. Their sex drives pollute their minds and therefore their relationships, with this toxic mindset spilling out into the anxieties of loved ones: "How could you cheat? I was so hot." Ira only improves himself by reexamining the idiotic expectations he places on his crush Daisy to put out before they even know each other, no longer defining their relationship by how many days left he has to 'score' with her. In the vein of George's ridiculous man-baby movie (surely a jab at the man child persona that Sandler has forged a career with), he must learn how to be a man by shedding the fragile sexual ego and seeing Daisy as her own person with her own decisions (the same personal redemption lifted from half of Kevin Smith's early flicks).
I admired how the film and its characters were able to recognise the potentially life-changing experience of being confronted with a fatal illness, but not completely buy into all the mystique of how it HAS to mean that the patient emerges from the other side a better person. Cancer or not, George is stuck in a pit of misery, his closest companions merely professional connections, and his one shot at a meaningful life long gone. In a quietly pathetic scene, he realises that even his good news of remission falls only on hired ears - he has no one to celebrate with, no one to tell but his maid (who nods politely). The same goes for Ira, where George is quick to remind him of his employee status when things don't go his way. A stranger to the concept of a friend, he lashes out at the one person who might actually care for him just because, not for an arbitrary personal gain (Laura seeks the same thing as George, a second chance at a life that is long past its due by date).
Seeing it now the film is a rather strange artefact, with Sandler having faded somewhat into obscurity, surrounded by a myriad of comedy alumni who has since gone onto stardom. Perhaps it has more truth than we realise. Sandler has only occasionally dipped into more dramatic roles with surprisingly levels of success, hinting that in an alternate timeline he may have had an entirely different career than we one we know him by. What remains is a matured, restrained performance of a man who has spent his entire life cheering others up but can't do so for himself (the old joke with the depressed clown comes to mind), and is able to harness the baggage of his previous acting personas to demonstrate how his personality dips and reverts back to immaturity when he doesn't get his own way, having been so used to that feeling for most of his life. See his reaction when Laura makes her final decision to take Clarke back, and how George ignores her reasoning completely, instead spluttering a "Come on!" - it's vintage Sandler, not an adult but the whiny baby that he's played so well and often. He hasn't grown up yet, he hasn't learned how to be a man. And it takes some hard words and harder lessons until he finally gets there.