Judd Apatow

Superbad (2007, Greg Mottola), the unrated version

Superbad is exceptionally funny. In terms of how often you lose your breath from laughing, it’s hard to think of a better movie than Superbad. Watching Superbad probably burns between 118 and 315 calories. This unrated version anyway. The rated version would burn about four minutes less. Next time I watch it I’ll have to try to measure it on my Apple Watch. It’s one of the funnier films ever made. A smartly done, utterly obscene teen male virgin comedy. It’s a peerless success in terms of those laughs, a combination of script, actors, and material. Utterly obscene teen male virgin comedies—the kind screenwriters Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg apparently grew up watching—needed the Internet and culture to hit 2007 to fully realize the genre’s potentials.

But it’s just a smartly done, utterly obscene teen male virgin comedy. The script’s got an amazing first act, plotting-wise; the rest of the movie doesn’t. Director Mottola takes a hands-off approach, not really showing much personality until the last shot when you get the feeling he wishes he were making a different, less utterly obscene teen male virgin comedy, but maybe even smarter. Lead Jonah Hill (playing “Seth”) loses his first act protagonist role once the second act hits. By the third act he’s even more reduced. Instead, it’s more about Hill’s best friend, Michael Cera (playing “Evan”), and their awkward third wheel, the hilarious Christopher Mintz-Plasse. They’re all high school seniors. It’s the last two weeks of school. They’re going to a party.

Mintz-Plasse’s side plot is all about his fake ID, liquor, and two party animal cops (Bill Hader and Rogen—who are playing older analogues to the teen boys, but not generally, it’s not one-to-one). It’s the even funnier stuff in the extremely funny movie. Because even though Hill and Cera have a lot of humor in their own liquor hunt (Hill promised dream girl Emma Stone he’d bring all the booze for her party, Cera promised dream girl Martha MacIsaac he’d bring her a special bottle of vodka), they’ve also got their “best friends since the fourth grade who go to different colleges and can’t be joined at the hip anymore” arc. For all their excellent insights into the male psyche, Rogen and Goldberg can’t crack that arc. Meanwhile Mottola is focused on the “boys finally learn girls are people they want to spend time with” arc, which is really awkward because Hill, Cera, and Mintz-Plasse are way too old for that arc.

Their being too old for it does provide a decent backdrop for some of the jokes, but the only time it gets directly referenced is with dream girl Stone. She’s too wise for Hill; he’s been intentionally confusing maturity and vulgarity his whole life and it won’t work with Stone. Meanwhile Cera gets this strangely paternalist arc with MacIsaac, which—given how shallow Cera’s performance schtick gets as the film goes along—is really bad for her. MacIsaac gets a little more screen time than Stone (it feels like a lot more; Stone’s forgettable) and somehow even less character. They’re both dream girl caricatures (albeit 2007 ones). The film never even hints at them being anything more. MacIsaac’s got friends, Stone’s got parents out of town. Done.

Other big problems include the progressive gay jokes. It’s lazy writing more than anything else. Superbad’s got a really big anti-toxic masculinity statement it hints around making without ever having the balls to make it. Also interesting is the lack of teen male virgin shaming, which sort of breaks the genre.

I also don’t understand how the Richard Pryor shirt Hill wears through the first act didn’t become the Garfield-in-the-car-window of the late aughts. Pryor’s expression gets laughs of its own, like he’s offering commentary on the surrounding events. It’s awesome.

Lots of Superbad is awesome. It’s peerlessly funny. It’s also astoundingly not ambitious.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Greg Mottola; written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; director of photography, Russ Alsobrook; edited by William Kerr; music by Lyle Workman; production designer, Chris Spellman; produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jonah Hill (Seth), Michael Cera (Evan), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogell), Seth Rogen (Officer Michaels), Bill Hader (Officer Slater), Kevin Corrigan (Mark), Martha MacIsaac (Becca), Emma Stone (Jules) and Joe Lo Truglio (Francis the Driver).


Bridesmaids (2011, Paul Feig), the unrated version

Whatever its faults, Bridesmaids‘s filmmakers get credit for making Maya Rudolph’s parents black and white, instead of ignoring her racial background like many other films would. Sadly, being better in that regard does not make up for Rudolph’s performance being the film’s worst or her character being dreadfully underwritten.

Writers Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, for the wedding and lead in to the wedding, borrow from a lot of popular movies (some even from producer Judd Apatow’s oeuvre). It’s sometimes successful, but in the end, it’s trite.

Luckily, Wiig did not just cowrite Bridesmaids, she starred in it. Her performance is fantastic, as is her story arc. Removing the wedding stuff with Rudolph might get rid of Bridesmaids‘s MacGuffin, but it would have produced a far better film.

Bridesmaids suffers from too much funny business. The filmmakers eject multiple subplots to concentrate on Wiig and her problems. There’s her romance with genial cop Chris O’Dowd, her sex-only relationship with an uncredited Jon Hamm (who’s hilarious) and her life just generally being in a bad place.

From the start, Mumolo and Wiig never ground Bridesmaids in a believable reality. They seem to think setting it in Milwaukee will do the trick alone–and it does some of the heavy lifting–but Wiig’s life is cartoonish. Unfortunately, the script often relies on being absurd instead of sincere.

Great supporting turns from Rose Byrne and Melissa McCarthy help, especially during weaker sequences.

Feig’s direction is affably indistinct.

Wiig’s performance is, again, fantastic.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul Feig; written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo; director of photography, Robert D. Yeomen; edited by William Kerr and Michael L. Sale; music by Michael Andrews; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Judd Apatow, Barry Mendel and Clayton Townsend; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kristen Wiig (Annie Walker), Maya Rudolph (Lillian Donovan), Rose Byrne (Helen Harris III), Melissa McCarthy (Megan), Wendi McLendon-Covey (Rita), Ellie Kemper (Becca), Chris O’Dowd (Officer Nathan Rhodes), Jill Clayburgh (Ms. Walker), Franklyn Ajaye (Mr. Donovan), Jon Hamm (Ted), Matt Lucas (Gil) and Rebel Wilson (Brynn).


Knocked Up (2007, Judd Apatow), the unrated version

Once upon a time, I read how what Apatow really does with Knocked Up is make a film about how men need to change to be acceptable for women. I think the article used stronger language. While that aspect of the film is present, it’s an extreme reading. It could just as well be about how a contentless young woman learns there’s something more important in life than shoes. Apatow backs off that aspect in terms of lead Katherine Heigl (she couldn’t have handled it anyway), but does give Leslie Mann (as her sister) a decent arc.

Unfortunately, he eventually loses track of Paul Rudd (as Mann’s husband) on his arc.

The film never really succeeds because it eventually requires the viewer to believe Heigl’s a good person. She’s not a murderer or anything… but good person is a stretch. Heigl doesn’t have any dramatic range (though her comedy timing is surprisingly good) and the romance between her and Seth Rogen, which one might say is essential, fails.

So, instead, Knocked Up is often just really funny. Even when Apatow’s doing his heartfelt scenes, he manages to get in a bunch of dick and fart jokes.

It helps he’s got Rogen, who’s fantastic, and the rest of the supporting cast. Jason Segel’s awesome; Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Martin Starr, all good. Alan Tudyk and Kristen Wiig (especially Wiig) are great in small parts.

Apatow seems to want the viewer to think about Knocked Up, which doesn’t play to its strengths.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Judd Apatow; director of photography, Eric Alan Edwards; edited by Craig Alpert and Brent White; music by Joe Henry and Loudon Wainwright III; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Apatow, Shauna Robertson and Clayton Townsend; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Seth Rogen (Ben Stone), Katherine Heigl (Alison Scott), Paul Rudd (Pete), Leslie Mann (Debbie), Jason Segel (Jason), Jay Baruchel (Jay), Jonah Hill (Jonah), Martin Starr (Martin), Charlyne Yi (Jodi), Iris Apatow (Charlotte), Maude Apatow (Sadie), Joanna Kerns (Alison’s Mom), Harold Ramis (Ben’s Dad), Alan Tudyk (Jack), Kristen Wiig (Jill), Bill Hader (Brent), Ken Jeong (Dr. Kuni) and Craig Robinson (Club Doorman).


Funny People (2009, Judd Apatow), the unrated version

Funny People plays a little like Judd Apatow wrote two-thirds of something he really loved so he decided to keep going… adding another two-thirds. So he ended up with four-thirds of a movie and because he’s Judd Apatow, he got to make it without skinning it down. I don’t think I’d even call him on it, except he doesn’t close it. He needs at least another third (so five-thirds) to get Funny People to finish right.

I think, somewhere in that paragraph, I meant to say it’s mostly outstanding. I’d heard great things about it, but even so… it’s far better than I expected from Apatow’s other work. The first two-thirds—which basically closes with Eminem musing on the meaning of life—is sublime. The rest is more of what I expected, but still good. It’s Apatow reality—it looks like a promotional photo for a nice hotel, but with cursing and human struggle.

Adam Sandler’s great. I almost wonder if Apatow realized how great he’d be (sort of playing a riff on himself) because Seth Rogen ends up getting too much screen time. Rogen’s good, but not as good.

Jason Schwartzman and Eric Bana are both excellent. Leslie Mann’s all right, but the script doesn’t let her character be complex enough.

Jonah Hill’s starting to get annoying.

Amazing RZA cameo.

Apatow runs long with Funny People; it really felt like he realized he couldn’t stop until he made it sublime again.

But he didn’t.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Judd Apatow; director of photography, Janusz Kaminski; edited by Craig Alpert and Brent White; music by Michael Andrews and Jason Schwartzman; production designer, Jefferson Sage; produced by Apatow, Barry Mendel and Clayton Townsend; released by Universal Pictures and Columbia Pictures.

Starring Adam Sandler (George Simmons), Seth Rogen (Ira Wright), Leslie Mann (Laura), Eric Bana (Clarke), Jonah Hill (Leo Koenig), Jason Schwartzman (Mark Taylor Jackson), Aubrey Plaza (Daisy), Maude Apatow (Mable), Iris Apatow (Ingrid), RZA (Chuck), Aziz Ansari (Randy), Torsten Voges (Dr. Lars) and Allan Wasserman (Dr. Stevens).


Get Him to the Greek (2010, Nicholas Stoller)

From Nicholas Stoller’s writing credits, I wouldn’t have thought him capable of such a funny movie. I hadn’t realized he’d directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Get Him to the Greek is a spin-off more than a sequel (though Kristen Bell shows up for a cameo). Stoller’s third act problems–when Greek becomes painfully unfunny and life affirming–aside, it’s almost the funniest movie in years.

Stoller does luck out to some degree, given his two leads. In one lead, he’s got Jonah Hill, who plays the Jonah Hill persona (Superbad grown up with girlfriend) and whose quiet delivery is perfect. The other lead, the absurdly extroverted Russell Brand, has a perfect loud delivery. Brand infuses his drug-addled rock star with these occasional moments of sarcastic clarity, which really adds to the experience.

Both Hill and Brand stumble through Stoller’s anti-drug message at the end, however. And while Stoller recovers the ending, he doesn’t resolve lots of issues he raises after turning it into a friendship drama.

For the majority of the running time, Greek‘s the funniest human comedy in a long time. Brand’s character is great for allowing absurd situations firmly set in reality. It never feels artificial… even with Sean Combs showing up.

Combs is hilarious in the film but gives one of the worst acting performances I’ve ever seen.

The rest of the cast–Rose Byrne (until the dramatics) and Colm Meaney in particular–are great.

It’s good. It should have been a lot better though.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Stoller; screenplay by Stoller, based on characters created by Jason Segel; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by William Kerr and Michael L. Sale; music by Lyle Workman; production designer, Jan Roelfs; produced by Stoller, Judd Apatow, David L. Bushell and Rodney Rothman; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jonah Hill (Aaron Green), Russell Brand (Aldous Snow), Elisabeth Moss (Daphne Binks), Rose Byrne (Jackie Q), Colm Meaney (Jonathon Snow) and Sean Combs (Sergio Roma).


Step Brothers (2008, Adam McKay), the unrated version

I guess I feel bad John C. Reilly isn’t taking more… intellectual roles, but they probably don’t pay as well. He’s essentially playing his character from Boogie Nights here, only a little stupider but also a little more self-aware. He’s still great and he’s hilarious, but there is definitely something missing.

But Step Brothers is fantastic. I think I started laughing before the opening titles ended and laughed at the last joke. The wife looked at me like I had a third eyeball as I kept pausing it to wait for my laughter to end.

What’s so great about McKay and Will Ferrell’s script is the intelligence. The jokes aren’t intelligent–that I know Reilly’s running around in a 1997 Return of the Jedi t-shirt is scary, not good–but they way they’re presented, the way the film’s constructed–those are intelligent achievements.

Ferrell and Reilly are about even in the film’s emphasis–neither gets much more screen time than the other–even when one should, when Reilly’s father (Richard Jenkins) abandons him, for instance. Maybe the whole catch of the film is seeing Jenkins, this fantastic character actor, blurt out obscenity after obscenity. It is somehow magical.

The rest of the cast is fantastic–Mary Steenburgen, Kathryn Hahn, especially Adam Scott–and it’s this lowbrow masterpiece. It’s so self-aware, it can’t be anything else.

McKay shot it in Panavision, which is only useful for the opening titles, and makes it feel so… beautifully pretentious.

Pseudo-pretentious.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Adam McKay; screenplay by Will Ferrell and McKay, based on a story by Ferrell, McKay and John C. Reilly; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Brent White; music by Jon Brion; production designer, Clayton Hartley; produced by Jimmy Miller and Judd Apatow; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Brennan Huff), John C. Reilly (Dale Doback), Richard Jenkins (Robert Doback), Mary Steenburgen (Nancy Huff), Adam Scott (Derek Huff) and Kathryn Hahn (Alice Huff).


Pineapple Express (2008, David Gordon Green)

Maybe American cinema is okay after all, maybe it is evolving. Or maybe Pineapple Express is just an exception. It certainly seems like Seth Rogen’s finding the right mix for popularity and quality, but Express outdoes anything I thought it’d be.

After a shaky prologue sequence–which overuses Bill Hader for some kind of a Superbad reference and underuses James Remar, who only gets a couple lines–Express moves into safe territory. It’s Rogen being a funny pothead while he goes about doing funny things as a process server. It’s all very funny and very safe. Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg manage to incorporate the most astounding plot elements and make them work–Rogen’s got an eighteen year-old high school girlfriend and there’s a great scene with him getting jealous over one of her classmates. It shouldn’t work, but it does and beautifully.

Then James Franco enters the story. Pineapple Express is, while still very funny in its quick scenes at this point, able to take a break for Franco and Rogen to sit around for a long scene. The scene’s funny, but it’s also character establishing. Express does narrative work while it’s treading water. The film mixes genres better than any American film I’m familiar with.

The film then evolves into the stoners on the lam comedy the trailers advertise. This period only lasts a little while (it’s hard to tell how long the periods last in Express, which runs close to two hours) and includes a hilarious fight scene.

But when the film becomes a buddy action movie–Pineapple Express owes more to Lethal Weapon than anything else–it gets fantastic. It plays with the genre it’s aping while never leaving it. It’s Lethal Weapon with Danny Glover and Mel Gibson hugging. But it still maintains that original genre–the stoner comedy–even during the intricate action scenes.

Director Green does a great job with those action scenes–seeing Gary Cole do John Woo is a great sight gag–but it’s kind of strange how little I thought about the direction throughout. Green does a fine job, but Pineapple Express is all about the script. Down to the relationship between Cole and Rosie Perez (who better have a comeback after her performance in this film), it’s absolutely perfect. I know Green did something–he got Franco his t-shirt design, for instance–but it seems like the script dictated the direction. There was only one way to do these scenes and the film does them in that way.

At the center–eventually–of Pineapple Express is the relationship between Rogen and Franco. The script gives the male friendship the language of a teenage romance, which works–both comedically and not. The film pushes the past the humor and stays with the approach. It isn’t for the one laugh, it’s for the entire film, which makes it rather affecting.

Danny McBride is really funny in the film’s flashiest role, but in terms of acting, Craig Robinson kind of runs away with the film. Every line reading he gives is fantastic and there’s a joy in waiting for him to appear and deliver another. Nora Dunn and Ed Begley Jr. are also hilarious in small roles, again thanks to the script.

There’s a certain level a film like Pineapple Express can attain–and it does–so there’s a question to exactly how good of a film Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg can write. If they keep at this level, or even a little under, it’d be fine–there aren’t many new American films as good as this one–but I’m wondering if they’re capable of doing even better. I can’t wait to see what they do next….

I’ll probably still be laughing at jokes from Express until then.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by David Gordon Green; written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, based on a story by Judd Apatow, Rogen and Goldberg; director of photography, Tim Orr; edited by Craig Alpert; music by Graeme Revell; production designer, Chris Spellman; produced by Apatow and Shauna Robertson; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Seth Rogen (Dale Denton), James Franco (Saul Silver), Danny McBride (Red), Kevin Corrigan (Budlofsky), Craig Robinson (Matheson), Gary Cole (Ted Jones), Rosie Perez (Carol), Ed Begley Jr. (Robert), Nora Dunn (Shannon), Amber Heard (Angie Anderson), Joe Lo Truglio (Mr. Edwards), Arthur Napiontek (Clark), Cleo King (Police Liaison Officer), Bill Hader (Private Miller) and James Remar (General Bratt).


Superbad (2007, Greg Mottola)

Superbad opens with the 1970s Columbia Pictures logo, features a 1970s soundtrack and, for much of the film, features its main character, played by Jonah Hill, wearing something seventies-esque. Those elements go far in creating a flavor for Superbad, as does the Southern California landscape. I’m not sure how important the flavor is to Superbad‘s success, since it’s still a funny movie. The script’s lulls rarely go on for a full minute, a good example being when Hill interrupts a soccer game to tell Michael Cera their plans for the evening (and setting the present action limits for the film) and Hill calls a bothersome soccer player (Cera’s in the middle of a game) a bed-wetter, recalling a bladder incident from eight years earlier. Then they don’t let the joke go. The player responds, Hill responds. Rogen and Goldberg’s script is the perfect comedy on the scene level. They know how to make it work and they know how to get the most from every scene. There’s not a single scene with an incomplete feeling to it (not a comedic scene, anyway).

The film’s getting a lot of online attention because of Michael Cera, who rabid fanboys seem to like almost as much as they like that sixteen year-old girl in the Harry Potter movies. Cera’s excellent in the film, except it’s not really an acting job. He’s playing his existing persona in a sex comedy for the first time. His performance is perfect; it doesn’t appear to have been much work. I wouldn’t even be commenting on it (Cera’s scenes are hilarious, especially the one where he has to sing for a bunch of violent adults at a party), if it weren’t for Hill’s performance. Hill gives a singular performance in this film–most of the raunchy lines are his, but he still manages to be the deepest character in the film. Cera’s depth possibilities get hurt by the handling of his big scene, when it’s more about the audience getting it than Cera getting it. But Hill… every scene with the guy, he’s amazing. And he’s amazing in ways suggesting his next performance will be as good (hopefully it won’t be in a Roland Emmerich movie as the comic relief).

Greg Mottola’s direction is as anti-hip as Hill and Cera’s clothing. He shot Superbad with the new Panavision Genesis digital camera and it’s hard to believe. Mottola’s job is pretty simple, to record the funny action going on, and he does it well. But there are a few times I remember really appreciating him.

Now for the problem. It’s really sentimental and really simple. While Cera and Hill have their adventures, another kid has adventures with a couple cops who act like Hill and Cera will if they never grow up. It’s a boy-to-man transition movie and it gets hammered in with a jackhammer. Instead of being content with its position as the funniest movie I can remember seeing, Superbad has to go and turn in a loony coda, taking all kinds of shortcuts with character development, just so it can have its sentimental, significant ending. Like most one night present action films, Superbad sets itself up for needing some real resolution and–since it’s already running 110–it hurries it through in three minutes, sucking a lot of the interesting possibilities from what it previously established. It’s a cheap ending masquerading as a good ending.

But even if the last four minutes of screen action are, basically, laugh-free, the preceding 114 are full of them. It’s a mixed bag and should not have been one.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Greg Mottola; written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg; director of photography, Russ Alsobrook; edited by William Kerr; music by Lyle Workman; production designer, Chris Spellman; produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jonah Hill (Seth), Michael Cera (Evan), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Fogell), Seth Rogen (Officer Michaels), Bill Hader (Officer Slater), Kevin Corrigan (Mark), Martha MacIsaac (Becca), Emma Stone (Jules) and Joe Lo Truglio (Francis the Driver).


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