Apatow’s Big Surge

You can love, like, worship, dislike, piss on, wrestle with, admire or kvetch about Judd Apatow‘s Funny People (Universal, 7.31) but you have to give it this — it’s a major Apatow brand-changer. It darkens, challenges, deepens, reboots and broadens the definition of those cereal-box ingredients that people think of when they refer to Apatow-brand entertainment. It’s not a “great” film but for me it’s a stunningly brave (by which I mean exceptionally candid and self-revealing) one. And funny as shit.

It really is the best Apatow movie so far. Not the warmest of friendliest or feel-goodiest, but unquestionably the frankest and ballsiest. A genuinely funny, corrosive, uncliched, agreeably smartass thing. Not perfect but close enough to what I wanted that I came out delighted. I believed each and every line and attitude and plot turn. I had a few minor beefs but no major ones.

This is very close to the Apatow flick I’ve been waiting for, and which frankly I had begun to think might never come from his workshop. Hats off, smart salute, balls of steel, etc. This is a significant leap forward.

A present-day Hollywood story about a selfish and not particularly lovable comedian (Adam Sandler) going through surges and regressions due to the emergence of a fatal disease, Funny People is an intimate and revealing and self-critical film about what selfish shits comedians can be. And what it is and what it takes to be a mensch. For the first time Seth Rogen plays a fairly interesting and layered character with seriously believable chops. Congrats also to the great Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Eric Bana, Leslie Mann, etc. — everyone’s game surges with this thing.

Funny People is much more of a Billy Wilder film than a James L. Brooks or Cameron Crowe one because it’s a film about values and decency and — you have to at least respect this aspect — a frank look at the selfish, uber-competitive tendencies of many comedian types.

“Take no notice of anyone who says Funny People is too long or doesn’t work,” I wrote/twittered this morning. “What they really mean is ‘where’s my Big Mac?’” They want, in other words, their Apatow meatloaf-and-mashed-potatoes fix — a yawhaw stoner/slacker comedy in the vein of The 40 Year-Old Virgin and, to a slightly more realistic extent, Knocked Up.

Funny People is consistently funny but in a low-key, casual-fuckall “if you get it fine and if you don’t so what?” sort of way. It’s unquestionably Apatow’s finest film. He’ll never go back to the sandbox of The 40 Year-old Virgin after this. At times last night I was telling myself, “Jesus, this is amazing.” Everyone’s game really does go up a lot in this thing. I know, I know — I’m repeating myself.

You know what’s great in this thing? A cameo scene with Eminem. It’s worth it for this bit alone.

Funny People poses a a bit of a marketing problem because it’s about show business types but also because it’s very real as occasionally cold, fuck-off-dickhead, slapdown, take-it-or-leave-it. It’s about a famous and wealthy guy having to deal with the fact hat he has no life and nobody to turn to. It winds up being a kind of love letter to having a family. Ballsy, mean-funny, honest, straight from within.

Most fans of Virgin and Knocked Up, I suspect, are going to have qualms, but that’s what happens when you deepen and darken and expand the brand — people go “hey, this doesn’t taste like the others! Gimme my comfort food!” Most people just want to kick back and watch fucking Seinfeld. Good God! Is there any once-legendary TV series that feels lamer by today’s standards? The fans used to brag about it being “a show about nothing.” Not any more. The let’s-lie-around- and-jerk-ourselves-off easy money days of the ’90s are over.

A voice is telling me, in any event, that the Seinfeld people — a good portion of them — are probably going to complain or feel uneasy about Funny People, and when they do they’ll only be taking their own game down.

41 thoughts on “Apatow’s Big Surge

  1. Not a big Apatow fan, but I guess I may have to check this one out, maybe…

    Btw, what the hell is with that throwaway Seinfeld shot in the last paragraph? That was far from comfort food back in the day (and I’d even argue that still holds true — to a certain degree — today).

  2. Yeah, lay off Jerry. Where else has quality and mass appeal ever correctly coincided? Godfather, Seinfeld, and the Snuggie. That’s it, that’s the list.

    I get the feeling that Jeffrey will be very disappointed if FP becomes a huge hit. “No! You all do not understand this on all the levels of which it plays. You don’t get it, cuz if you did, you’d realize that it’s too dark for you. Stop pretending, and go buy Mountain Dew at Walmart.”

  3. Great piece and now I’m really looking forward to this film . . . but, for its time, Seinfeld was the deep, dark, ballsy brand expander to the comfort food of Friends or Frasier. Kind of odd that you chose it as your example.

  4. mountain dew at walmart! ha ha, you’re either one of them or you’re some cafe drinking free wi fi hustling…ah ya get my point…

  5. Good review, but you seem to regard The 40-Year-Old Virgin in the same vein as Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach. It’s an excellent comedy, even if it may not be particularly deep.

    (As an aside, I hope Mann gets the Supporting nom here that she deserved for Knocked Up.)

  6. I wish you would spend more time and energy in reviewing the actual movie than in getting all defensive and bitchy and yes, even insulting. Look, I understand what you’re saying and might even agree with you, but this routine of yours is getting really tiring.

    Anyway, Sandler is currently shooting with Dennis Dugan… again. Hopefully ‘Grownups’ will be a change of pace for Dugan too.

  7. I am really looking forward to this one.

    The trailer had me worried, but I was counting on the movie being better than what the trailer was suggesting.

    What is it about weak trailers for good movies, and amazing trailers for bad movies?

  8. Most fans of Virgin and Knocked Up, I suspect, are going to have qualms, but that’s what happens when you deepen and darken and expand the brand — people go “hey, this doesn’t taste like the others! Gimme my comfort food!”

    I’m not sure about this bit. I mean Knocked Up contained some pretty brutal scenes of the two different couples arguing and had some fairly harsh things to say about relationships and marriage. It’s definitely a lighter film than Funny People, but it wasn’t a kind of I Love You, Man-style breezy romp. And some of the stuff in Freaks & Geeks was really quite dramatic too.

    Funny People feels like a natural progression. Not so much a giant leap forward as a logical next step.

    The surprising thing was that despite the more serious subject matter, it was probably the most consistent of his three films in terms of jokes. Really, really funny stuff. The stand-up scenes were A LOT funnier than the ones featured in the trailers.

    The cast were brilliant. Sandler has never been better, including Punch-Drunk Love, and Rogen also gave his best performance yet. I think Bana will benefit most from the film, and hopefully studios will realize he’s an extremely funny guy and not just cast him in dour tough-guy roles.

    It really didn’t feel overlong. The cast were all good enough and the subplots interesting enough that the scenes that theoretically could have been trimmed were too good to really let go. I read a review that pointed out the Thanksgiving scene as one that could be sliced, but why should they? It contained some of Sandler’s most poignant lines and featured the hilarious fight between Rogen, Hill and Schwartzman.

    It was a really excellent film and I’ll be gobsmacked if it doesn’t feature among the 10 nominated films come Oscar season.

  9. Wells, even though Seinfeld was immensely popular in it’s prime and attracted millions of viewers, the people who love catching it on repeats and even buy the DVDs aren’t the comfort foodies.

  10. Massey, agree completely about Mann deserving a Supporting Actress nom for KNOCKED UP, that is for me one of the Academy’s bigger mistakes of recent years. She’s fantastic in the movie.

    Really glad to hear the raves for this, very much looking forward. If it really is that much darker/complex, are they asking for trouble by releasing it in the middle of the summer and marketing it like just another Apatow yuk-fest? I wonder if this should have been a Thanksgiving movie. You almost can’t blame people who are expecting another 40YOV or KNOCKED UP.

    I love the joke in the trailer where Leslie Mann fucks with her Australian husband (Bana) by talking in a ridiculously over-the-top Australian accent. I just pictured her doing that for 20 years of marriage every time she was pissed at him. Great bit. Leslie Mann rules in these films.

  11. The Seinfeld line makes perfect sense to me. My roommate watches Seinfeld reruns every day at 7 and 11. Has no interest in books, music or new movies. Just wants to re-laugh at the same things he’s already seen 100 times.

  12. Is it still two and a half hours or did Apatow take what’s his name’s advise and cut it down?

    BTW, doesn’t Rogen look like Fozzy Bear in that top picture?

  13. Can’t disagree too much with anything that Jeff said, though I’d give more credit to 40 Year-Old Virgin.

    It looks like Universal’s solution to the “marketing problem” of the film is just to ignore it. The trailers and especially the one-sheet have very little to do with what actually happens in the film.

  14. I don’t usually go for bashing people based on their personal appearance. But, I’ve go to say Jonah Hill is moving into John Candy territory; and it looks like Seth Rogen gave up on the Green Hornet physique.

  15. About Funny People:

    “Take no notice of anyone who says Funny People is too long or doesn’t work,” I wrote/twittered this morning. “What they really mean is ‘where’s my Big Mac?’”

    About Public Enemies:

    “Mr. and Mrs. Joe Schmoe and their kids will not be all that happy with Public Enemies — let’s face it. It’s not a mojo burger, pickles and potato chip type of film and it never will be.”

    Love ya Jeff, but this whole “it’s not a burger, fuck you mcschmucks” thing is getting old. Seems too much like burger-munchers not liking it is a plus for you.

  16. Never slag a burger to an Angeleno!

    Between Father’s Office, Apple Pan, Umami, Golden State, Bar Marmont, BLT, CommeCa, Hawkins, Foundry, etc there is something for everyone in this great hamburger capital of America!

  17. The trailers seem to severely be under-selling this thing.

    For those looking for the movie that broadens the Apatow horizon into something edgier (e.g., me), that Harry Potter joke isn’t going to sell them. If I were only basing my attendance on the trailer, they would not have earned my attendance.

    As for those looking for the more broad comedy stylings…again, that Harry Potter joke? It’s fairly lame, and that’s the end note for your trailer?

    I could be wrong, but they better hope that Apatow, Sandler, and Rogen loyalists come out in force purely for the sake of those guys. I don’t care about marketing or how much money a movie makes; the process just puzzles me sometimes.

  18. I’d like some clarification on how a “love letter to having a family” is considered darker and deeper than that RNC advertisement called Knocked Up.

  19. It’s nice to be in agreement with Jeff this time around, and I look forward to him cheering for it down the stretch.

  20. Jeff, have you still not watched Freaks and Geeks? It’s really worth it – a level above Apatow’s films, in my opinion.

  21. Thing is, though, if this flick tanks with the mall-stiffs, you know we’re gonna be getting Knocked Up 2 from Apatow next.

    Wait a minute…I forgot, this is Universal we’re talking about, here. We’ll probably be getting a cheap, DTV Knocked Up 2 soon anyhow, only sans Apatow, Rogen, Heigl, Rudd, etc.

  22. Prediction (I’ve NEVER been wrong … well maybe) :

    Big openiing weekend for the Sandler crowd. Once they realize its a grownup comedy and not a lowest common denominator one … it will tank pretty quick.

    Will make 85 mil – US Box Office.

  23. The trailer makes it look like it will be good. I think Apatow is going for the serious stuff, oscar nominations and the like. Where does Rogen get those t-shirts? I have not paid much attention to Sandler, but it looks like he did a good job on this one.

  24. The 40 Year Old Virgin is excellent. It’s the best contemporary relationship film (even if it’s not all that realistic) in a long time.

  25. No way this movie makes only 85M domestic box office. It is going to have legs and do Hangover business-200M plus. Last time I checked the economy still sucks and if Hangover proved anything it is that people need/want to laugh at the movies. I can’t wait to see it, even though I feel like I already have thanks to the f’ing give away every plot point trailer.

  26. Universal has to be doing the lamest marketing job for a movie EVER with this one. The billboards just have Sandler, Rogen and that chick from Knocked Up standing there and smiling with no insight into what the actual movie is about. The trailers have shown me that Adam Sandler is dying of cancer and they REALLY play up Jonah Hill’s really lame joke about Harry Potter being in Wizard School long enough to get a PhD in Wizardry.

    The online promotion is great though, with those hilarious RAAAAAAAANDY vids and the Yo Teach! thing. Too bad they won’t be seen by many.

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