Apatow is a superb writer-director, but his increasing running times are evidence of an irritating self-indulgence. Despite this film's sharp dialog and terrific story, its bloated, undisciplined editing keeps it from being a classic.
George Simmons (Sandler) is an A-list star whose life is awash in alcohol and women. His lack of real friends becomes a problem when he's diagnosed with a terminal blood disease, so he latches onto struggling comic Ira (Rogen), hiring him as an assistant and confidant. The threat of dying makes George reconsider his life, and he realises he only ever loved one woman, Laura (Mann), who now has a family with Aussie businessman Clarke (a hilarious Bana). And when George's medical treatment succeeds, he decides to get her back.
Apatow is clearly taking a deeply personal look at the life of a comedian--pranks, performance, loneliness, selling out, kissing up. The various characters have very different experiences, with Ira's friends (Hill's successful stand-up and Schwartzman's sit-com star) showing two other aspects.
They're all brilliantly played, with hilarious dialog that feels improvised and natural. And the who's-who of comedy cameos is great fun too.
But this scattergun approach stretches out the story, which isn't really about George and Laura: this is actually about the funny and emotional development of George and Ira's friendship. It's a sharply observed journey for these two men, both of whom are extremely well-played. This is easily Sandler's most complex acting work, cleverly drawing on his own background. This includes using clips from his home movies and early stand-up, plus witty parallels with his movie career.
The script allows Sandler to switch from raucously hilarious to deeply tragic and back to warped humour within one sentence, and he does this with surprising ease. But the film manages this trick less successfully, straining our endurance as it ricochets back and forth. Besides being a strongly personal story, this is a warmly observant look at the road to fame as well as life on the other side. And it keeps us laughing from start to finish, while also dipping into places that are very dark. But some ruthless pruning would have made it much better.