The Films of Judd Apatow
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Knocked Up (May 29/07)
Unlike Judd Apatow's first feature, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up suffers from an aimless, overlong sort of vibe that often threatens to negate its many positive attributes. The film generally plays like a rough cut; Apatow has included a ridiculous number of subplots and digressions, and there's little doubt that the two-plus hour running time often feels longer than it actually is. And yet - due primarily to the charisma of stars Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, as well as the inclusion of several genuinely hilarious bits of comedy - the movie is certainly never boring, although one ultimately can't help but wish that Apatow had excised virtually everything not relating to the central storyline (which revolves around Rogen's Ben getting Heigl's Alison pregnant during a one-night stand, and their subsequent efforts to deal with the situation). There is, for example, far too much of an emphasis placed on the crumbling marriage of Alison's sister (Leslie Mann's Debbie), which - despite the best efforts of Paul Rudd, who delivers an expectedly compelling performance as Debbie's sardonic husband - generally serves no purpose other than to pad out an already-long running time (a less tactful critic might surmise that this aspect of the film exists solely because Mann is married to the director). That being said, Rogen has never been funnier and Heigl seamlessly blends into Apatow's established troupe of actors (which includes Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, and a scene-stealing Jason Segel) - with the end result a film that, while admittedly a cut above most contemporary comedies, can't help but come off as a mild disappointment when compared with The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
As was the case with Knocked Up, Funny People features a tremendously (and undeniably) overlong running time that ultimately hampers its overall effectiveness - which is a shame, really, as the movie's opening hour is just about as appealing and entertaining as anything writer/director Judd Apatow has done in the past. The storyline follows successful comic/actor George Simmons (Adam Sandler) as he hires a struggling stand-up (Seth Rogen's Ira Wright) as his assistant after being diagnosed with a fatal blood disease, with the movie's first half essentially detailing the friendship that slowly-but-surely blossoms between the two men. It's not surprising to note that Apatow has infused the early part of Funny People with a laid-back sensibility that's perpetuated by a heavy emphasis on the various characters' affable banter, and there's little doubt that the filmmaker's penchant for stressing dialogue over plot proves instrumental in initially drawing the viewer into the proceedings - as Apatow has, in accordance with the movie's title, peppered the supporting cast with a number of genuinely hilarious folks (ie Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, etc). The expected mix of comedic and dramatic elements is pulled off surprisingly well, with Sandler and Rogen's superb work ensuring that there's a certain level of poignancy to the film's more overtly sentimental moments. It's only as George and Ira arrive at the home of George's ex-girlfriend (Leslie Mann's Laura) that Funny People begins to seriously run out of steam, as Apatow sacrifices the movie's momentum to create a needless showcase for his admittedly talented family (Mann is his wife, while Laura's two kids are played by the couple's daughters). The thoroughly superfluous nature of the final half hour often threatens to negate the strength of everything that precedes it, and it's subsequently clear that the film should've topped out somewhere around the 100 minute mark (ie two-and-a-half hours is just unreasonable for a movie of this ilk). The end result is a frustratingly uneven endeavor that's generally entertaining enough to sustain the viewer's interest, yet Apatow's penchant for cramming simple stories into an epic framework is becoming increasingly difficult to overlook (ie if ever there were a filmmaker who should not be allowed final cut, it's Apatow).
This is 40
A typically erratic Judd Apatow feature, This is 40 follows Knocked Up supporting characters Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) as they're forced to confront a series of problems in the wake of their respective 40th birthdays. There's little doubt that This is 40 fares best in its lighthearted and irresistibly affable opening hour, as Apatow does a superb job of initially establishing the various characters and emphasizing their comedic yet authentic exploits - with the compulsively watchable atmosphere heightened by the stellar performances and an ongoing emphasis on laugh-out-loud funny bits of comedy. It's only as the movie rolls into its progressively uneven midsection that Apatow's episodic sensibilities begin to become problematic, as the filmmaker, as expected, has infused the proceedings with an almost equal balance of entertaining and needless sequences. (There is, for example, an entire subplot detailing Debbie's efforts at figuring out which of her two employees is stealing from her that should've been excised.) The hit-and-miss atmosphere is increasingly compounded by a palpable lack of laughs that accentuates the flabbiness of Apatow's bloated screenplay, and there's little doubt that the movie demonstrably fizzles out by the time it reaches its nigh endless birthday-party-themed finale. One ultimately can't help but label This is 40 the latest in a long line of watchable yet disappointing efforts from Apatow, with the director's obstinate refusal to trim the fat from his pictures impeding his ability to move to the next level of filmmaking (ie there's just so much potential here).
Judd Apatow's fifth film, Trainwreck follows promiscuous magazine writer Amy Townsend (Amy Schumer) as she's forced to reevaluate her choices after falling for a stable, steady doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader). It's immediately clear that screenwriter Schumer is looking to skewer the various tropes and cliches associated with the romantic comedy genre, and while the comedian-turned-actress generally does a nice job of highlighting some of the more overtly absurd romcom-specific elements, Trainwreck does, as a result, feature a first half that occasionally feels more like a series of sketches than an actual movie (eg Amy and a friend are frightened and confused when Hader's character wants a second date). Schumer's effective yet unmemorable turn as the central character ultimately perpetuates the movie's less-than-stellar atmosphere, and there's little doubt that Trainwreck benefits substantially from the efforts of its exceedingly talented supporting cast. (Hader's remarkably assured and charismatic leading-man performance is an ongoing highlight, to be certain, and it's worth noting, too, that periphery players such as Brie Larson, Mike Birbiglia, and LeBron James (!) offer up better-than-average work.) Having said that, Trainwreck improves quite a bit as it progresses into its second half and morphs into a more traditional romance - with the palpable chemistry between Schumer and Hader's respective characters going a long way towards perpetuating this vibe. It's distressing (yet not surprising) to discover, however, that the movie suffers from a seriously overlong running time, with Apatow's stubborn refusal to trim the movie down resulting in a protracted third act that's rife with overlong and flat-out needless sequences (eg a thoroughly pointless intervention sequence) - which finally does ensure that Trainwreck falls right in line with the filmmaker's previous three efforts.