Hollywood Comedy: The End of Apatow

I watched the Pineapple Express tonight. I went into this movie with high elevated expectations, hoping that that the talented writers of the Team Apatow could make me laugh yet again and maybe in the process get me thinking about life, relationships and my lifestyle choices regarding marijuana.

That’s what Team Apatow does best, right? They make us think about the things we’re laughing at – like when the baby pops out in Knocked Up or you realize your probably know someone who is destined to be a real life 40-year virgin. We are intrigued and challenged by the Apatow signature colliding of comedy and realism. It’s the same reason we all loved Juno (Reitman not Apatow). Or Superbad. Real life is awkward and painful. Enough with these Hollywood stock characters! Let’s let in some real people with real life problems.

Maybe its a symptom of the reality TV generation. It used to be only the Cannes and Sundance brats let could get away with this kind of reckless unpolished realism, but the world of mainstream comedy has felt its push. Who are these new raw and boldly flawed characters? Judd Apatow characters, of course, who has made his career adapting the adorability of awkward indie realism to the Hollywood formula.

I like a lot of what Apatow has done, but my disappointment with Pineapple Express got me thinking. How long will mainstream audiences continue to buy what Apatow is selling?

I think there’s a reason most indie films don’t catch on (Juno being the exception). They’re too cute and self-satisfied, and let’s be honest, they aren’t as well produced as Hollywood. Most audiences can smell their smug from a mile away, and while they might have something valuable to say its almost always obscured by their lack of overt entertainment.

But not Apatow’s. He knows how to blend the best of indie with the best of Hollywood. His first few comedies were much more balanced in this regard, Knocked Up being the big hit turning point that most people agree captured it all just right. But the last few have felt increasingly like the work of a lazy indie writer who felt “too good” for the conventions of Hollywood story. And while a little improv can really liven up a script, too much is death.

Don’t get me wrong, they have been for the most part OK, fun to watch movies. But the laziness is really showing through now. The underproduced feel is starting to seem out of place with Hollywood comedy genre expectations.

What I’ve seen in the last few Apatow flicks is more sketch show than film. Characters come on screen and play a few funny gags, then back to the mission at hand, or should I say the ostensible purpose of the movie. It doesn’t hold together because the motivations of the characters aren’t all there, and they certainly aren’t consistent. That might sound like an unfair criticism of a pot movie, but I’m not just talking about Pineapple Express here. I’m talking about Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Stepbrothers, and Drillbit Taylor. Judd Apatow had a rough summer putting his name on every comedy in Hollywood.

I’m going to say it folks, I think Apatow is slipping. Even if this summer had produced another film of the same quality as Knocked Up I’m not sure Apatow could turn it around. The wise-to-the-world comedic-realism of the past few years has got us all a little exhausted. Are we as a culture so sombered by the realities of recession, plummeting American importance, and the swath of social problems created by vast economic inequality that even our comedies have to remind us that its not all fun and games? Absolutely not. Let’s not forget that Hollywood movies area fundamentally escapist pastime. Dear Judd Apatow, we know we’re supposed to think about stuff, but can we please just go back to the days of Stiller, Wilson and Vaughn slapstick? A simpler time when men were men, women were women, and comedy was comedy.

Oh, and the next time someone asks if you liked Juno instead of faking it go ahead and tell them what you really think, that you thought it was stuck up and way too pleased with itself. Give me Wedding Crashers any day of the week.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Hollywood Comedy: The End of Apatow

  1. Nick

    As I’ve always said – Seth Rogen is the Chris Moneymaker of screenwriters. “Hey, if this self-deprecating d-bag can do it…shit, I’m moving to Hollywood!”After movie critics (and sixteen year-old boys) finished cleaning off their respective faces following the release of “Superbad”*, a lot of people** watched it again and only saw Jonah Hill yelling and swearing for 120 minutes.

    *Yes, this was a semen reference.
    ** “I”

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