Category Archives: Leslie Mann

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.

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