Category Archives: Judd Apatow

Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Entertaining Jews: Night #6

The old insult goes, “Jews run show business.” To that I say “thanks.” 

Jews make up about 0.2% of the world’s population yet they have always been a loud (emphasis on the loud) and prominent voice in film, television, music, and comedy. 

The next eight days are Hanukkah, which is not the most important Jewish holiday, but we do get presents. For each night of Hanukkah, I will share one Jewish entertainer who has had a big impact on me. For the sixth night of Hanukkah, let’s talk about Judd Apatow:

And the fourth face on Mount Rushmore of Jewish Comedians is Judd Apatow.

Unlike Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Larry David, Apatow’s work is done almost exclusively behind the camera. Yet, he is one of the most recognizable faces in Hollywood. That is most likely because he is so good at what he does.

As discussed with Sarah Silverman yesterday, Judd Apatow endured a string of brilliant “failures.” Most notably, both “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” were cancelled after just one season a piece. Now, “Freaks and Geeks” is in the pantheon of greatest TV shows of all time and “Undeclared” is slowly making its way there.

Judd has had a long history of comedy. You could call him the original podcaster, as he used to get private interviews with comedians for his high school radio station. He interviewed such big names as Steven Wright, Garry Shandling (whom he would later work with), and Jerry Seinfeld. 

Since his early years of struggle, Apatow has become the go-to writer/director/producer of good comedy in Hollywood. His first two efforts in the director’s chair, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” were master classes in free flowing hilarity. They turned two possibly unlikable leads into lovable anti-heroes. He made the Jewish Schlub into an archetype, made Seth Rogen a star, and thought of some genius one-liners along the way (“well you still have a tiny dick, Cartman”). Apatow has received mixed reviews for “Funny People” and “This is 40,” but I give him all the credit in the world for his insatiable ambition.

Part of comedy is about helping others, and Apatow has made a career of just that. Some of the people he has helped propel to stardom include Seth Rogen, James Franco, Steve Carell, Kristen Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel, and Lena Dunham. This is just a few of the many names. Apatow simply has an eye for talent unparalleled in the comedy world (except maybe for Lorne Michaels). There is something special about having an eye for good talent, and then using your own power to help that person out. It takes a lot of self-confidence to know that you have found someone good, and a lot of heart to dedicate that much time to a person. Judd is a mensch of the finest order.

Judd Apatow has always been my gateway into comedy. In 2007, the magical year in which both “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” came out, comedy nerdom came full swing. I also didn’t even realize that he was influencing me from such a young age: Judd Apatow wrote “Heavyweights.” Yes, you heard me correctly. That movie where a bunch of Jewish kids (ex: Josh Birnbaum) from Long Island (“never heard of it!”) go to sleep away camp. If anyone gets the humor of the Jewish identity, it is Judd Apatow.

Fun Fact: Judd Apatow was born in Flushing and raised in Syosset. He probably knows your cousin.

Movie Review: This Is 40

Comedies aren’t supposed to be over two hours long. Then again, Judd Apatow is a very ambitious guy. He likes to let his camera run long, and he doesn’t shut it off until he feels like he’s ready to shut it off. “This Is 40,” which clearly comes from a very personal place, at first made me want to check my watch. However, once the credits began to roll, I realized that I wouldn’t have minded if it ran a little longer.

“This is 40″ is a “sort-of sequel” to “Knocked Up.” It would be better labeled as a spinoff, a title which is usually reserved for television. It takes the struggling married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) and their two daughters Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) and puts them into their own little world. Pete desperately finds ways to escape. He’s given up on his fantasy baseball league and seems more content sitting on the toilet with his iPad. Debbie, meanwhile, is fed up with feeling under appreciated and keeping everything together on her own. Naturally, this causes some problems.

Yet, despite all their problems, what makes “This Is 40″ unique is that I never doubted for one second that Pete and Debbie weren’t right for each other. “This is 40″ is more about unfortunate speed bumps than the absolute deterioration of a marriage. It takes place on the week that Debbie turns 38 (although everyone treats her like she’s 40) and Pete turns 40. This begins what many in Hollywood would call a midlife crisis.

I never found “This Is 40″ to be a film about people drifting apart. Rather, its about two people who want to be closer together finding ways to get closer together. “This is 40″ is about the modern family struggling to grow and remain close in a very wired world of cell phones and tablets. It’s the same thing that “Modern Family” tries to do, except “This is 40″ doesn’t have Ed O’Neill repeatedly telling us how much he loves his family. I have not reached the age of 40 yet, but I can tell that “This is 40″ comes from a very real place. It has absolutely no problem showing us the bad as well as the good.

While “This Is 40″ is not my favorite Judd Apatow film, it is definitely his most mature, and his most lovely made to date. Yet, maturity does not mean that he eschews vulgarity. It has a hefty load of what I like to call “butt stuff.” One scene that has been frequently discussed is one in which Debbie is forced to look at Pete’s butt because he thinks there’s a problem. It’s a scene that shows both the sparks of a marriage that has faded away and the unconditional love that remains. There is also a less talked about scene where Pete lets one rip. The moment was unscripted. It’s hilarious and it’s a fine example of the loose and spontaneous feeling of the film.

Often, “This Is 40″ feels less like a story and more like life unfolding before our eyes. It is one of the more unconventional mainstream comedies you’ll see nowadays. It refuses to settle for the usual plot beats, and it doesn’t try and immediately ruin happy moments with sad ones. Judd has a great talent for knowing when to be funny and when to be sad at just the right times. It was something he tried to do in “Funny People,” but had much less success with. You can tell that someone has become confident in their comedic abilities when they know that it is okay to go for an extended period of time without a laugh.

Even if SAG didn’t recognize it, “This Is 40″ has one of the best ensembles of the year. Every cast member participates in what I would like to call “confessional acting.” As Pete and Debbie, Mann and Rudd are so convincing as this married couple. Even though I felt that the film was running a little long during the third act, I was surprised to find myself teary eyed (not from boredom) by the end. The extra running time made them into real people, and their performances hit that point out of the park. Also impressive is the oldest Apatow daughter, who has a way with words and emotions at such a young age. And to no one’s surprise, Albert Brooks is perfect as a bitter old Jewish man.

Like every good project Judd has worked on, “This Is 40″ is special because of its great display of empathy. It makes us dislike our characters when they are acting based on their most flawed instincts, and it makes us like them when they overcome and change. By the end of the film, Pete and Debbie don’t necessarily change who they are, but rather they learn to embrace what they have, and what they can become. The greatest thing that can happen to an Apatow character is when they gain a sense of self-awareness.

As the film began, I almost thought I wasn’t watching an Apatow film. He has embraced a quieter, more artistic sense of filmmaking, which I am rather enjoying. The opening felt like a Wes Anderson film, but with less thick-rimmed glasses and Kinks songs. But even as Apatow changes, the best parts of his works doesn’t disappear. Even as Pete and Debbie battle financial troubles and deteriorating health, characters still manage to get into fights about “Lost” and “Mad Men” and talk about how they pee “like a shower head.”

The characters that Judd portrays are getting older and older as his career progresses, yet he luckily hasn’t abandoned his distinct style of humor. While it is called “This Is 40,” you don’t have to be that enjoy to enjoy this film. When you laugh at something as hard as I laughed at parts of “This Is 40,” there is no use in questioning it.  

If this scene doesn’t help “This Is 40″ earn over $100 million, then there is no hope for America anymore.

My Most Anticipated Movies of 2012

A fan poster for “Django Unchained”.

Will 2012 be a better year for movies than 2011. So far, the amount of trailers for 3D re-releases is not promising. However, we live in a world where content is king, and a few amazing filmmakers, and some great actors, as well as some who are on the rise, will make 2012 a noteworthy year. Assuming the world doesn’t end (I still doubt you, Mayans), here are the 2012 movie releases that I am most looking forward to:

1. Django Unchained- It’s Quentin Tarantino’s next movie, what else would you expect me to put as number one? It is not for that mere fact alone, however, as a lot of good directors can make bad movies (Tarantino’s own “Death Proof” was far from a masterpiece). However, what also looks promising is the film’s amazing cast, which includes Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz, and The RZA. It is Tarantino’s next attempt to relocate the Western. It started in Los Angeles, traveled to East Asia, and ended up in Nazi-Occupied France. “Django Unchained” will put the Spaghetti-Western into the slavery era South. Expect scenes that go on longer than they should, but you wish could continue, and some amazing dialogue on Civil War politics and slave culture.
Coming to Theaters December 25

2. The Dark Knight Rises- When Christopher Nolan first made “Batman Begins,” he not only revived a franchise, but also an entire genre. When he made “The Dark Knight” in 2008, he had created the best comic book movie ever. Not only that, but one of the greatest action movies of our time. Can “The Dark Knight Rises” not only equal, but surpass, its predecessor. From the looks of the previews, it can. It is unfortunate that we don’t have The Joker, but Tom Hardy will put on quite a show as Bane, and be more true to the character from the original comics than “Batman & Robin” was.  Nolan has just gotten better and better as a director, and “The Dark Knight Rises” looks like one hell of a way to end this amazing story.
Coming to Theaters July 20

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- I have a soft spot for “The Lord of the Rings” movies: they helped to fuel my very hyperactive mind around the age of 10. Given the 3D and digital technology Peter Jackson is using, this chapter of Tolkien’s books will look better than ever. While this probably won’t top “Return of the King” in scope, it will stand in its own right as a superior example of how to make a blockbuster movie, and will complete the full arc of one of the greatest fantasies ever told.
Coming to Theaters December 14

4. Chronicle- I have never been a fan of the incorporation of shaky cam movies. It makes action movies more nauseating, and is a poor excuse for creating supposed “horror” (I’m looking at you, “Blair Witch Project”). But it should work for “Chronicle,” a homegrown superhero fable that made a splash on the internet with its intriguing trailer. The fact that “Chronicle is not based on a comic book gives it more creative freedom, and based on the plot I’ve seen from the trailer (kids causing chaos) with their own powers, this will probably be one of the most realistic superhero movies we’ll get.    
Coming to Theaters February 3

5. Lincoln- Here’s the movie with the second best cast of 2012. It is something of a shocker that there hasn’t been a decent Lincoln movie to date, but it’s no surprise that the first one will be directed by Steven Spielberg and star Daniel Day-Lewis as Honest Abe. I am always curious to see what Mr. Day-Lewis will add to a performance, and how Spielberg will tell a story. I expect nothing but the best.
Release Date Currently Unknown

6. The Amazing Spider-Man- America might be all Spider-Maned out, thanks to the poorly received third movie and the even more poorly received play that involved the world’s most overrated musician. It might be too soon to do a “Spider-Man” reboot (“Spider-Man 3″ is only four years old), but “The Amazing Spider-Man” shows great promise. It is directed by Marc Webb (“500 Days of Summer”) and it stars Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) as Peter Parker. Some young energy could do good for the franchise. Plus, this will go back to the roots of the original “Spider-Man” comics, when Parker had to construct his own web blasters. In the original “Spider-Man” movies, Parker could launch webs from his arms. This change brings Spider-Man back to what he always was: a nerd, and a genius.
Coming to Theaters July 3

7. This is 40- I am still on the fence about Judd Apatow’s last movie, “Funny People” (it had brilliant moments, but it would’ve benefitted from being 45 minutes shorter). However, “This is 40″ brings back Apatow’s greatest couple, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debby (Leslie Mann) from “Knocked Up.” Jason Segel will be reprising his role as Jason, and Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”) will join the ensemble. I’m already laughing.
Coming to Theaters December 21

8. Gravity- I know very little about “Gravity” besides the fact that it was directed by Alfonso Cuaron, and that it is a science fiction movie. The last movie Cuaron directed, “Children of Men,” was a sci-fi masterpiece and one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen. Each time I watch it is always as exhilarating as the first. I expect some amazingly long takes of outer space.
Coming to Theaters November 21

9. Casa de mi Padre- This is one of the more peculiar projects of the coming year. It is a comedy about a Hispanic drug dealer starring Will Ferrell that is entirely in Spanish. It also stars two of Latin America’s best (and usually, most serious) actors: Gael Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna. Once Ferrell turned Luna into a running joke during his George Bush one man show, it was kismet that they would make a movie together.
Coming to Theaters March 16

10. Jeff Who Lives At Home- The Duplass brothers make some of the quietest, strangest dark comedies of the day. Just look at 2010′s “Cyrus” for proof. Jason Segel steps into the slacker role this time, as Jeff, a man who is finally forced to leave his mother’s basement in order to help his brother (Ed Helms) catch his possibly adulterous wife. Awkward laughs and awkward silences to ensue. The fact that it comes out in March will help make the early part of the year a better time for movies than it usually is.
Coming to Theaters March 2

Movie Review: Get Him to the Greek

Hollywood loves sequels. They love it. They’re a little too in love though. If Hollywood wants to continue banking off of franchise-worthy films, they should consider spin-offs over sequels. “Get Him to the Greek” shows that perhaps individual characters, and not entire plots, were meant to be seen again.

“Get Him to the Greek” uses the 2008 instant classic “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” as its starting point. It pulls away Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), the self-absorbed English rocker. Snow still exists in the same universe as “Sarah Marshall.” After the success of such songs as “Do Something” and “Inside of You,” his career was almost totally destroyed after the failure of the accidentally offensive “African Child.” And don’t worry, you will get your music video.
Snow also got married and divorced. After seven years of being sober, he took up drinking and drugs once again. Across the pond and an entire land mass over, Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) is a rising executive at a record label with a doctor girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) that he rarely has time to share a moment with. Green is what Hill’s character in “Sarah Marshall” (who is totally different) would have become if Snow actually ever listened to his demo.
But the music business is changing. Green’s boss Sergio (Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs), who is always mad about something, wants a game changer. Green suggests the winning idea: bringing back Snow to do a show at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The only catch is, Green has to get him himself and bring him from London to New York to Los Angeles in just 72 hours. Basically, it’s a good set-up that makes room for even better jokes.
The humor of “Get Him to the Greek” stems from a mixture of awkwardness and over-the-top gags. Sometimes, these two styles interact with one another. The awkwardness works because the actors play the characters that way, and the slapstick works because it’s well directed.
Yet, the one comedic aspect of “Get Him to the Greek” that could be considered close to brilliant is its satire of the music world and entertainment industry in general. Snow’s songs are always laced with innuendos. At another moment, Sergio plays the music he thinks will sell right now. It’s basically just a string of curse words, but it sounds nearly identical to modern mainstream rap. Satire is at its best when it seems too ridiculous to be true, but too truthful to be just a joke.
Like most of the other films in the Apatow oeuvre (Judd produced this), there is a strong reliance on the actors. And the actors deliver. This is Hill’s first true lead performance (in “Superbad” I’d say it was a co-leading performance), and with it he proves that he’s more than just the creepy guy in the background who does cringe-worthy things. What this kind of comedy needs to work (besides good jokes) is relatable characters. Green’s uptight nature feels genuine and not forced. Hill works to make him not only likable, but also hatable. He’s nice when he should be, and extremely selfish when he should be. Moss is essentially playing Peggy from “Mad Men” yet she adds a dash of humor to it which makes it very effective.
So Hill may be a great leading man, but there are two absolute scene stealers here. I thought from the time I first saw “Sarah Marshall” that Aldous Snow was a character worthy of his own movie, and he finally got it. He is transformed from ex-druggy musician to a character worthy of being in “Spinal Tap.” Some might call Brand’s performance effortless, because he is essentially playing himself. However, I enjoy performances like that because what it really means is that no other actor could play this character. It belongs distinctly to someone.
Brand makes the character real by adding little distinct features to him such as a pretentious way of pronouncing words and an even more pretentious walk. While his character is a huge jerk most of the time, there are little moments that make him seem relatable. Making a caricature relatable is what should be defined as fine acting.
I agree with many who are saying that Diddy’s Sergio deserves a movie of his own. His character is too big, bloated, and hilarious for one film. Diddy channels the angry boss role flawlessly. His performance reminded me of a variation of Malcolm Tucker from “In the Loop” with less of a good reason for being so angry all of the time.
“Get Him to the Greek” is written and directed by Nicholas Stoller. Like he also displayed in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” Stoller has this amazingly rare talent of creating a huge ensemble full of three dimensional characters.
While some of the backstories in “Greek” certainly don’t feel as original as the ones in “Sarah Marshall,” they no less bring understanding to the characters. And why, do you ask, is backstory so important in a comedy? Because it’s easier to laugh with people you like than people you despise. Green could’ve been nothing more than a selfish, cold businessman. Snow could’ve been nothing more than a self-absorbed and emotionless rock star. Yet, “Greek” is better than that. It doesn’t need to stoop down to that level.
“Get Him to the Greek” lacks some of the finer points of its predecessor, yet I find few things here I could really complain about. In a summer season that has so far been pretty tepid, “Greek” seems less interested in trying to sell something to you and more interested in actually trying to give you a good time at the movies. At that I say, it nobly succeeds.

Summer ’09 in Movies

Summer 2009 came and went. It was a summer of record highs and record lows. No, I’m not talking about the temperature; I’m talking about what happened inside the movie theater. Every summer, Hollywood tries to blow away audiences with high budget blockbusters and high concept comedies. This summer, as with any summer, a select few struck a chord with moviegoers. Now is time to examine the 2009 summer in movies.

Summer started strong. To no one’s surprise, Pixar scored another hit with “Up.” Even without 3D glasses, “Up” was as stunning as it was moving.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the summer came earliest: “The Hangover.” What at first seemed like a typical buddies-go-to-Vegas-comedy turned into the funniest movie of the summer. What made the film work so well was it’s mixture of psychological thriller with slapstick comedy and Carrot Top cameos.

Perhaps the two most anticipated comedies of the summer, “Bruno” and “Funny People,” did not quite win over audiences. Of all the movies this summer, these two no doubt alienated audiences the most. I, however, was on the side of admiration. While “Bruno” didn’t reach “Borat” levels of hilarity, it’s impossible not to be impressed by Sacha Baron Cohen’s shameless audacity and ability to get a laugh even in the most frightening situations.

“Funny People” is the third film directed by Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”), and certainly his most different. It’s his first film dealing with death, and his first one with an organized plot structure reaching an unknown conclusion rather than a plot that was a string of unpredictable events leading to a known conclusion. I don’t know which approach is better but in the end, both work.

Perhaps summer’s biggest disappointment was “Public Enemies.” What could’ve been a classic Depression-era crime thriller on the level of “Bonnie and Clyde” turned out to be a giant dud, and a waste of the brilliant talents of Christian Bale and Johnny Depp. Perhaps the main reason is that Michael Mann (“Collateral”) only seems to want to direct action, and not characters. On that note, he can’t direct action sequences very well either.

As for the big blockbusters, it was a mixed bag. “Star Trek” scored major points. I did not see “Transformers 2” or “G.I. Joe,” because the movies-based-on-toys trend is one that must soon come to a halt. The tonic to this Hollywood’s blockbuster problem was the stunning “District 9.” Maybe it was such a cure because it was more Cape Town than Tinseltown as it was shot by first time South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp. The film managed to mix bizarre sci-fi fantasy with an allegory on apartheid and immigration. It was the perfect mix of action and brains I was searching for all summer long.

As usual, the best summer fare came from the art house. Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” is the Iraq War film this generation has been waiting for. Shot eerily like a documentary, “The Hurt Locker” is perhaps the most realistic look at the war put on screen so far. It’s about a bomb diffuser so whenever a bomb goes off, naturally it goes off in slow motion; you can watch metal melting off a car as a bomb goes off. Michael Bay could learn a thing or two from a film like this.

This summer’s “Little Miss Sunshine” Award for indie surprise goes to “(500) Days of Summer.” While commercials have portrayed the film as a romantic comedy, it is far from that. It is the most inventive anti-romantic comedy you’ll see in a long time.

This summer’s award for best film came late. It is one that I should’ve seen coming though: “Inglourious Basterds.” Quentin Tarantino (“Pulp Fiction,” “Kill Bill”) is at the top of his game, employing Spaghetti Western style to Nazi occupied France.

What is it that an auteur like Tarantino proves about this summer in movies? Well, he proves that in the end, originality always wins.

That One Scene: (500) Days of Summer

“That One Scene” is a new (and hopefully recurring) series on The Reel Deal where I examine that one scene in a certain movie that sets it apart from all others.

I hate having to answer the question “what do you think is the most important part of a movie” because it is simply impossible to answer. Every part of a film contributes to how good the final product is. Without good actors, the character’s don’t seem real; without good writing, the situations don’t seem real, and without a good director the whole project falls apart.
However, there is always one part of a film that always stands out to me. One thing that in my eyes that can make or break a film: dialogue. Whether or not the characters have believable banter is what contributes to an entire film feeling realistic or not. That is the particular reason why Judd Apatow and Quentin Tarantino are the best scribes currently working in Hollywood.
I would like to bring up a very recent example of great dialogue. It is a very short scene from “(500) Days of Summer.” This snippet of dialogue might not seem like much when read aloud, but when put in the context of the film, it is incredible:
Summer: Is that true?
Tom: Yeah, yeah. He drinks and he sings…
Summer: No, no not Mackenzie. The other thing.
Tom: What thing?
Summer: Do you…like me?
Tom: (Pause) Yeah, yeah of course I like you.
Summer:…As friends?
Tom: Right. As friends.
Summer: Just as friends?
Nothing remarkable sounding here. But yet, there is. Even when not hearing this in the context of the film, there is something beautiful about this dialogue’s simplicity. In it’s simplicity, it feels so real. In it, Summer isn’t really asking for an answer she doesn’t know, she is just asking for confirmation for something she believes has to be true.
But that’s not the point. When you see this scene in the movie, you will realize everything about it is perfect. The surroundings of the scene seem totally irrelevant; everything is focused on Tom and Summer because it is all about them. This is their moment; their first moment where they see that something other than friendship may be possible in the near future.
Gordon-Levitt and Deschanel deliver the dialogue flawlessly. Every emotion they convey is perfectly entwined with every word they speak. They add a level of friendly awkwardness that no script can convey on it’s own. It is the true essence of onscreen chemistry: two people (typically a man and a woman) being able to communicate with each other at a realistic level, whether for positive or negative reasons.
I recall a line from Roger Ebert’s “Pulp Fiction” review in which he says “this movie would work as an audio book.” What he’s saying that when dialogue is good, sometimes listening can defeat watching.
Good dialogue is like good music, you can listen to it over and over again. That is the case for this scene of “(500) Days of Summer.” It is no complex, witty conversation about hamburgers or foot massages but simply an intimate moment between two strange souls. It is not just the words you want to listen to over and over again, but the delivery.
If “(500) Days of Summer” gets nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars this year (which I 100% guarantee you, it will), this will be the clip shown when its title is announced.
The next installment of “That One Scene” will discuss the “Ride of the Valkyries” scene in “Apocalypse Now.”

More Thoughts on Funny People

This is an unofficial second review of Funny People. Some movies are just so big, they need to be reviewed twice.

Usually, once I review a film, it’s done. But sometimes, I am so conflicted over a film that I can’t help but go back to it. This happened with “Funny People.” Critical consensus is telling me not to like this movie, but something inside me is telling me not to listen.
I finished my review of “Funny People” still partially undecided. I am still mixed on my opinion, but if I had to choose one end of the spectrum, “Funny People” would fall towards the “good” end.
The reason I have decided to revisit “Funny People” is because so much happens in this long movie, and I feel like I barely got to cover everything I wanted to in one review. One thing I really would like to talk more about is the film’s massive supporting cast. I talked plenty about Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill, but not enough about Jason Schwartzman. Schwartzman is one of my favorite comic actors today, and his performance in “Funny People” as an actor who caught a lucky break on a horrible sitcom was a highlight of the film. His performance reminded of his performance in “Rushmore;” like Max Fisher, his “Funny People” character always casts off an air of superiority for minor achievements. He was born to play smug.
Also worth mentioning is the always great Leslie Mann and the breakout performance by Aubrey Plaza. On that note, a post on PopWatch today made a fascinating observation about the portrayal of women in “Funny People.” While some wrongly accused Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up” of being sexist (*cough* Katherine Heigl *cough*), the women in this film are portrayed as being no different then the men. Plaza’s Daisy is just a struggling comedian like the rest of the guys. Meanwhile, Mann’s Laura seems much less reactionary than Debbie in “Knocked Up,” despite hiding much more sadness.
There are so many great characters in “Funny People.” The real problem with the film was that even with its long running time, you still feel like you want more from the characters. Maybe the problem with the film wasn’t that it was too long, but that it wasn’t long enough. I’m not much of a sequel person but I would not at all mind seeing more of these characters’ lives (luckily, a Randy movie is reportedly in the works).
Overall, it seems impossible not to recommend this movie because overall, it is a well made movie. It’s a comedy that’s not like most comedies coming out nowadays: it’s not formulaic, it’s not predictable, and it’s real. Each of these characters feel like real people with conflicting emotions and even the power to change. But then again, it is an Apatow film.
“Funny People” is definitely different from the rest of Apatow’s oeuvre. Most of his film’s endings are decided from the beginning, but it’s the path to the end that is unpredictable. “Funny People” takes the opposite approach. In “Knocked Up,” you know from the beginning that one way or another Alison will have the baby, and Ben will one way or another be there. In “Funny People,” we know that George will try and win Laura back. Whether or not he’ll succeed at it, remains unclear. I don’t know which approach is better but in the end, both work. I am excited to see whether Apatow continues this new approach to comedy. If he does, then “Funny People” was just an experiment, something that wasn’t meant to be perfect. His next film then, should be comic gold.

Movie Review: Funny People

Judd Apatow is the comedy legend of our day. It seems that just about everything he touches turns to gold. After a few years of small producing and writing efforts, Apatow returns with his first directorial effort in two years with “Funny People.” At first, it might not seem like comic gold. But under its scratched surface, lies a diamond in the rough.

“Funny People” is probably Apatow’s most personal project to date. He incorporates real life experiences into every movie he does, but never so much as in “Funny People.” In fact, “Funny People” starts off with real footage of Apatow and Adam Sandler making prank calls when they were just starting off in the comedy business.
But forget reality, lets head off to movieland. “Funny People” is a dramedy about George Simmons (Adam Sandler). Simmons is based partly off the life and career of Sandler; he’s a comic legend who’s become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. He may have a big, beautiful home, but like Charles Foster Kane, that home is completely empty.
Now, Simmons has discovered that he has come down with a terminal disease. In his near-death experience, Simmons decides to seize the moment and reevaluate his life. First, he decides to return to his standup career. Then, he hires struggling young comic Ira Wright (Seth Rogen) to be his writer and something of an assistant. Next, he decides to win back an old flame (Leslie Mann) who is currently married to an Australian man (Eric Bana).
“Funny People” isn’t just a personal project for Apatow–it’s just as personal for Sandler. And because of that, he gives the best performance he’s given since “Punch Drunk Love.” However, “Funny People” isn’t as much of a flat-out drama as “Punch Drunk Love” was. Maybe it’s not seriousness that makes Sandler’s performance so good, perhaps it’s maturity. In “Funny People,” he’s just as funny as in classics “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore.” However, here, there is a degree of self-awareness. The style of humor of George Simmons is something like the style of humor that made Sandler famous in the 90s. Those bothered by Sandler’s sense of humor won’t be bothered here.
A performance less acknowledged by critics is Rogen’s. He projects a high level of awkwardness, especially when Ira is struggling through stand up routines. It’s funny, but we’re not laughing at him; in a way, we’re cheering for him. Rogen also brings probably the most emotion he’s ever brought to a role when expressing his feelings towards George in their very rocky friendship.
The film contains a fine ensemble of comedians both old and very new. Apatow regular Jonah Hill is a scene stealer in his portrayal of a comedian who realizes the key to comic gold is YouTube videos of cats. Meanwhile, newcomers like Aubrey Plaza (“Parks & Recreation”) pull their own weight as well. Most surprisingly is how hilarious Eric Bana is. Then again, I shouldn’t be too surprised. Before becoming a serious actor, Bana was a standup comic Down Under, and even had his own comedy show.
Along with being a dramedy, “Funny People” is also a self-reflexive show business satire. It contains fictional movies and TV shows within a fictional movie. There are actors playing actors, and actors playing themselves. Many are celebrities you would never expect to be funny, yet it turns out a certain rapper who I won’t name happens to have a very good sense of humor about himself. Meanwhile, the movie within a movie “Re Do” and the show within a movie “Yo Teach!” show the somewhat dismal state of mainstream comedy.
Although all of these aspects of the movie–the actors, the satire, the drama–are all great, they all serve as part of the film’s bigger problems. The first real flaw with the film is that it’s too long. “Funny People” is around 145 minutes long, and you can feel every minute of it. Some scenes drag on too long. The film also tries to tackle way too much. It’s central focus should be the relationship between George and Ira, and George’s quest to win back Laura’s affection. However, the film also goes off trying to tackle Ira’s girl troubles, as well as the careers of a few other rising comics.
The only problem is, I don’t think I would want to remove a single scene from the movie because every scene is so good, every character is so fascinating, and every joke is so funny. The editors must have had a more difficult time than they could ever have imagined with this film.
But there is also another reason it would be impossible to cut a single scene out. The film isn’t meant to focus solely on George and Ira. “Funny People” is an ensemble film, and as an ensemble film, it must cover a wide amount of people rather than a small amount. Apatow decided with “Funny People” to make both a personal relationship film and a collage of the lives of assorted comedians.
So now I sit here, wondering whether to tell you to see or not to see this movie. Instead, I’m going to do what a good critic does best: give you my opinion, and then let you decide for yourself whether or not you should see it. This is a movie made for people who don’t just like comedy, but are diehard fans of it. Even if you’re not, you’ll still laugh at the brilliant stand up routines and be wowed at the human connections that Apatow’s career has become defined by. To put it in short, this is the first comedy epic I’ve ever seen.
On the Apatow Scale: 1. The 40 Year Old Virgin 2. Knocked Up 3. Funny People