Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Problem with Judd Apatow

By ScottDS

Whenever the media does a story on today’s “Hollywood comedy renaissance,” one name continues to crop up: writer/producer/director Judd Apatow. While I’m a huge fan of his earlier work in TV (The Larry Sanders Show, The Critic, Freaks and Geeks, and Undeclared), his cinematic offerings leave me wanting. I don’t believe The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People deserve half the praise they’ve been given. I also want to stress that I have nothing against the man personally. He’s worked hard to get where he is and he is partially or wholly responsible for some classic television comedy. Also, I don’t entirely blame him for his reputation – that fault lies, as always, with the media.

The elephant in the room is improv comedy. Like anything else, it can be wonderful if wielded correctly but Apatow and Co. simply don’t know when to cut back. While filmmaking is a collaborative medium, there is a world of difference between a director asking his actors before a take, “Can you guys think of anything better?” and what Apatow does, which is to tell his actors, “We’re leaving the camera on for ten minutes. Go!” This is probably due (at least in part) to Apatow’s collaborations with Adam McKay, the co-writer/director of Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and The Other Guys (Apatow produced the first two). McKay is an alumnus of Chicago’s famous Second City comedy troupe (Apatow started as a standup comedian) and seems to belong to the “Throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” school of filmmaking. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this – I would say the same thing about the ZAZ team who brought us Airplane! and The Naked Gun – but McKay, like Apatow, simply doesn’t know when to stop. There are gags in Anchorman that look as if they were lifted straight off the improv stage, with the actors constantly trying to top each other with no payoff.

Let’s take the “You know how I know you’re gay” scene in 40-Year Old Virgin in which Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd ask each other this question for what seems like an eternity. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the story and it goes on for entirely too long. It’s telling that even critics who adore Apatow’s work think his films are too long, and the “unrated extended” editions that show up on DVD and Blu-Ray are even longer, with prolonged sequences that destroy the pacing and, in comedy, pacing is everything. To be fair, most of Bill Murray’s material in Caddyshack was improvised but director Harold Ramis knew when to rein him in and Murray is a much better actor than Seth Rogen. (On the other hand, I do credit Apatow with making me a fan of Paul Rudd.)

Technology also plays a role here. With digital cinematography becoming the norm, directors can let their actors go on without having to worry about how much film is left in the magazine. Likewise, with digital editing, directors and their editors can experiment, leaving things out, adding things in, etc. whereas they would’ve had to be more judicious in the past when the editor had to physically cut a piece of film – a laborious process if there ever was one.

Improv is also deadly for memorable dialogue. Quick, give me a line from Knocked Up! [waits five minutes] Yeah, that’s what I thought. Years later, we still quote the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, Woody Allen, This is Spinal Tap (yes, it’s improvised but with much greater discipline and within a mockumentary framework), the various 70s/80s films of John Landis and Ivan Reitman, not to mention classic sitcoms from The Honeymooners to Seinfeld to The Simpsons. While there are the occasionally clever lines in Apatow’s films, improv, like jazz, is often ephemeral. There is no lasting impact because there was no thought put into the joke – it was simply the first thing the actor said and too many actors Apatow works with (cough, Rogen and Jonah Hill) don’t know any better so they resort to an easy F-bomb (I’m no prude but it loses its shock value after a while) or an easy pop culture reference, which will only date the movie in the years to come. Improv is a skill that’s tough to master but there’s nothing like a witty, well-crafted line of dialogue. Again, improv can be a good thing (see: the films of Christopher Guest) but it’s too often used as a main course when it should be desert.

Apatow’s films are also boring to look at it. Don’t get me wrong – in comedy, nothing can get in the way of the joke, but a director can still make a comedy that looks good. Blake Edwards, Billy Wilder, Mel Brooks, John Landis and Ivan Reitman in their prime… they all made comedies that looked good and, as far as today’s filmmakers are concerned, I would include Edgar Wright, Wes Anderson, Spike Jonze, and David O. Russell in that category as well. Lighting, color, contrast, framing… they are all tools in the director’s bag of tricks, yet Apatow’s films all look as if they switched on one key light and said, “Okay, let’s go!” I’m not saying his films need to look like Blade Runner, nor should they, but there is something to be said about films that are pleasing to look at. One explanation I’ve read is that, due to the heavy use of improv, Apatow uses multiple cameras which means the lighting has to have a more uniform look (one camera can’t capture an errant shadow, for instance).

I want to like Apatow’s films more than I do. I sat in the theater watching The 40-Year Old Virgin with a grin on my face but I have no need to see it again, I can only quote two lines of dialogue from it (one is a David Caruso reference!), and I still can’t believe my local paper gave it four stars. Knocked Up fairs even worse in this regard and there’s one shot during the birth scene that is completely gratuitous. I know Apatow can do better. Whether it’s a case of dealing with the restrictions imposed by the TV world (including HBO) or perhaps a change of actors is needed, I don’t know. I hate to sound like I’m looking at the past through rose-colored glasses but it’s telling that I’d rather watch a 70-year old comedy than one made five years ago and since Hollywood studios all love to capitalize on the latest trend, every other comedy that’s released today is basically “Apatow lite.” (I don’t blame him for this, but it doesn’t help.)

To wrap it up, while I remain an Apatow fan (albeit a slightly disgruntled one), I remember watching The 40-Year Old Virgin and, five minutes in, there was a gag that involved Steve Carell trying to urinate with an erection. My first thought wasn’t, “This is funny,” but, “I’ve seen this before… and this is the new comedy god the papers are raving about?”


AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Thanks for an interesting take on Apatow. I have always felt his films were somehow "weak" and this would explain it if he's basically relying on improv rather than thoughtful writing. Improve done right can be very entertaining, but it's also rarely consistent and few can do it right. Certainly, this crew can't.

In the end, I suspect Apatow's work will be forgotten as soon as the next big thing comes along, i.e. I don't think his films have staying power.

Anonymous said...

I think he is a good writer but, at least in film, he seems to cater to his own worst instincts. I don't know if this is a case of having too much creative freedom or simply not knowing any better.

Another thing I'd like to add is, there's a slight chance I'm over-estimating his reliance on improv. There is something to be said for actors who simply have a naturalistic way of delivering dialogue.

As far as "the next big thing," it's all a cycle. My fear is that, with the reliance on foreign box-office, we won't be getting any witty well-written comedies anytime soon. Puns, wordplay - none of that stuff translates and I wonder if people even find that sort of thing funny anymore.

I also want to stress that I have enjoyed some of his films that he's produced: I got a big kick out of Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall was better than I thought it would be, and I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed Bridesmaids. Get Him to the Greek, on the other hand, I did not enjoy. And Russell Brand works best in smaaaaall doses!

T-Rav said...

Scott, interesting article. I'll be honest; I have never liked Judd Apatow. I hear "Freaks and Geeks," which I have never seen, is pretty good, but in general, I think he's overrated and one-note. He just doesn't seem able to make a comedy that relies on something other than vulgarity. Besides which, I don't think I can forgive him for creating the impression that Seth Rogen is a "comedic actor."

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I fear the next big thing will be Ass or something very similar. Not only is Hollywood catering to stupider and stupider audiences, but you're right that foreign audiences are now such a big market that they are scrubbing clever word play, complex scripts and lengthy dialog.

It's pretty sad.

Of course, maybe there this will just open the door for a new Hollywood? A self-published Hollywood?

Whether it's all improv or just part of it, I just never find his stuff funny. It's (as you've said before) "low hanging fruit" and it's not even handled all that well. I'm not kidding that I just don't laugh at his films... a smile is about the best he gets. And it's not for lack of wanting to like them, I just don't see anything really funny.

Anonymous said...

I don't even mind vulgarity; it's just that we've all seen what Apatow is capable of when he doesn't use it, so why reach for the low-hanging fruit?

I enjoy Seth Rogen the same way I enjoy Ben Stiller: when he's playing a regular schlub, I don't care. When he's playing an over the top character, I enjoy it a little more. I loved Rogen in Fanboys, in which he plays a die-hard Trekkie. ;-)

On the other hand, I will never forgive him for Observe and Report which was a piece of shit. I can see where they were going with it and I don't mind dark comedy but it wasn't funny, just sadistic.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I partly blame Apatow for the latest cinematic trend: full-frontal male nudity. (sigh) Again, after a while, it loses its shock value and it's usually funny for the wrong reasons: male nudity by itself isn't funny, you need to do something with it. Jason Segal just standing there naked: not funny. Segal moving over to the couch, acting as if everything is normal: a little funny. (This is an exception to the rule.)

Louis C.K. (I'm a big fan) once said he prefers male nudity because guys can't laugh and, uh, you know, at the same time. Fair enough, but I miss the heyday of Porky's and Fast Times at Ridgemont.

DUQ said...

Scott, Interesting article. I am not an Apatow fan because he seem one-note to me -- crude and stupid. I don't even feel like his set ups are that great or that he's trying to do anything more than crude. Maybe if he had some depth to it at least?

I think Andrew is right that Apatow is getting really close to "Ass."

Anonymous said...

I don't think we're there yet, at least not in terms of movies.

Reality TV on the other hand... :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think the underlying problem with Rogen is that he can't distinguish sadistic from funny. Basically, he equate making people uncomfortable with being funny, but that's too fine a line and he doesn't seem to know where it is.

As for getting close Ass becoming entertainment, we aren't far from it except that the cinematography is still better.

But on your point about verbal comedy, there is definitely still an audience for it, that audience just doesn't tend to see modern movies because that audience doesn't care about fart/sex jokes and Jackass style humor.

Ed said...

Is Apatow the guy who did "There's Something About Mary"? Or was that someone else?

Anonymous said...

Ed -

That was the Farrelly Brothers.

And I've kinda soured on them over the years as well.

Ed said...

Ah, yeah, that's right. I never cared much for them either. To me though, they aren't much different from Apatow except they are maybe a little more "zany." Apatow's humor is too apathetic and dull to me.

T-Rav said...

Good point. I suppose Apatow is still a few steps above reality TV :-)

Anonymous said...

By the way, lest you think I'm only capable of seeing the bad when it comes to modern comedy, there are comedies out there I like. :-)

Granted, I don't make it to the theater as often as I used to but I have to say Horrible Bosses was a pleasant surprise. I laughed! It was funny!

And as far as TV, I love my Thursday night NBC comedies (sans Whitney) and I recently watched all five seasons of Psych on Netflix: funny stuff. And last season of Curb Your Enthusiasm was its best in years.

Individualist said...

Scott Great Summation

I think you are right about the clever lines being missed but if Hollywood is doing this because of transwlation issues then I think they are making a mistake.

For one thing thanks to the military might of the British Empire in the late Rennaissance to the early industrial age half the world speaks English even if that is not their native language.

An Indian programmer friend at another job enlightened me that do to the many dialects in that country English is actually the Official language of India.

Even when the programs are dubbed if they want it to sell they are going to have to alter the dialogue to make sense in that lnaguage. If they don't no matter what they do it will come off as a bad Kung Fu Action flick.

So I think hollywood is making a mistake.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I really enjoyed (very surprising) Dinner for Schmucks. I was pretty sure I would hate it, but I really liked it.

One film I did hate was Paul Fart, Mall Cop.

Anonymous said...

Indi -

Your probably right. I know in the Naked Gun commentary, David Zucker mentions that puns don't translate very well but that obviously doesn't mean other types of verbal humor won't translate. And sadly, Hollywood has a tendency to underestimate its audience.

Interestingly, when Airplane was dubbed in German, the jive-talking guys were dubbed in Bavarian, which I guess makes sense to them. :-)

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I thought Dinner for Schmucks was... okay. I almost wish the entire movie had been the dinner.

I do like Jemaine Clement's work in the film. IMDb has the one exchange from the film I remember laughing at:

Kieran: "Have you ever lived among a herd of goats, for months at a time, as one of them?"
Barry: "No."
Kieran: "That surprises me."

Doc Whoa said...

Please don't hit me... I like Apatow's films. :D

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I enjoyed it. Usually these films just don't work for me because it's unbelievable the smart guy will go along with the idiot as he gets him in trouble. But here it actually worked.

And I thought the other characters were great -- especially the mind control guy and Jermaine Clement.

I first saw Clement in Flight of the Conchords and thought he was hilarious and in Schmucks he did a fantastic job with a truly insane (yet oddly believable) character. I laughed at almost everything he did.

Anonymous said...

Doc -

I don't hate them... I only wish I liked them more. :-)

There's nothing worse than a movie you want to like and are disappointed by, verses one where there was never any chance of you liking it in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I never watched Concords but Clement is also in a weird movie from the makers of Napoleon Dynamite titled Gentleman Broncos. I didn't like it as much as I wanted to - which seems to be the running theme here - but Clement makes it funny by the virtue of his presence.

BevfromNYC said...

Great article Scott. And now Apatow is producing the same only with women as in The Bridesmaids. It's bad enough that his male characters are crude, but when it's women, it's just disturbing. Yeah, there were part that were funny, but not memorable at all.
I think part of the problem with modern comedies like these is that there are no parameters to work within. There used to be a "production code" that made it necessary for writers to be really creative to get by the censors.

FYI - I like Whitney! I know, it's really a chick/sit.

tryanmax said...

I'm going to take a slight counterpoint here and suggest that Apatow is presenting to a broad market films that are really intended for a niche. That he is doing so is his own problem, I'm not going to justify that.

But returning to my thesis, I say it for a couple of reasons.

1) A handful of weirdos like myself actually dig the improv stuff. I do agree that it gets overdone sometimes and kills the pacing. It also strikes me as a ploy to sell more copies of the unrated, extended-version, special-edition, director's cut DVDs complete with outtakes and multiple commentary tracks. (That and the crippled DVD copies distributed by RedBox.)

2) I find that a lot of Apatow's comedies (I'm including produced-only titles) resonate with me in a way that other comedies don't. I think it is because he gravitates toward storylines that aren't as broadly relatable. That he isn't able to make them more widely relatable is still a failing of his writing, though.

Am I declaring myself in the niche? Perhaps. Maybe that is why everyone is about to throw electronic fruit at me. ;) Honestly, I don't know. Let's just say that the rest of my hipster friends don't dig my politics and leave it at that.

Also, in contrast to everyone else's comments, I see Apatow's work as rising above the crude vulgarity that marked the late 90s/early 00s. Did he shoot up like a rocket ship? No. But I enjoy his films because they actually contain a storyline, something that most films from the era of American Pie were utterly lacking. (That said, I still think Van Wilder is hilarious.) In fact, before Apatow came along, I had just about given up on comedies.

Do I expect Apatow's work to be enduring? Not really. I think that his films are made for today, not for tomorrow. In that way, his comedies remind me of much of the comedy coming out of the 70s.

I agree that he gets over-praised. That might owe to the fact that he is more a producer now than anything else.

BevfromNYC said...

Apparently Blogger liked my comment so much, it posted it 4 times!

BevfromNYC said...

Andrew, I loved Flight of the Concords. Hilarious!

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, Me too. They had some fantastic musical moments and I just overall like the show a lot. I especially like the anti-Australian episode where they get into the fight with the fruit vendor. :)

Anonymous said...

Ugh, the "production code." :-)

I liked Bridesmaids but I attribute that to: Kristen Wiig, who's one of the most talented performers on SNL in years (even though most of her original characters annoy the shit out of me)... and director Paul Feig, who worked with Apatow on TV.

In fact, the vomit scene in the bridal shop was Apatow's idea; Wiig and her co-writer had a different idea in mind but, apparently, Apatow didn't think it was big enough.

As for crude humor with women, maybe it's because I'm a guy, but why not? Why should guys have all the fun? :-)

Anonymous said...

tryanmax -

Don't worry, I won't throw any fruit at you, electronic or otherwise. Besides, when it comes to movies, I'm in a few weirdo cults myself. :-)

And I apologize in advance for rambling!

You may be right re: Apatow producing niche films for mass audiences. At least to me, some of it reeks of "Me and my friends are gonna make a movie!" which is great when you're Kevin Smith and working at a convenience store in your 20s.

With Apatow, the more movies he makes, the more "insider" they become. In Funny People, it's like, "Hey, look at all the cool people I know!" Underneath the niche stuff, there's this weird sterile studio movie-making undercurrent which destroys any "hip cred" these movies might otherwise have. There's no sense of discovery because these were studio projects right out of the gate. But I'm not saying that's a bad thing, or that every "cult film" is good.

And I would argue that his stories are broadly relatable, only that they're laced with a "cool" pop culture-friendly vibe.

Re: American Pie, et al - you do have a point. I'll give Apatow credit for this: his movies are more than just a series of set pieces connected by what screenwriters call "shoe leather" a.k.a. the boring plot stuff. In a movie like Pie, people only remember the gross-out moments, not the scenes in between.

But Apatow's films come with their own set of problems which is why I wrote this. At times, I'd almost rather have a loosely-connected series of set pieces instead of Seth Rogen babbling for five minutes about... whatever.

P.S. I don't think Van Wilder was hilarious. But Eurotrip... that's a movie which deserved better box-office! :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott and tryanmax, I'm coming down on the opposite of this.

I agree Apatow offers a little more than the gross out stuff of the 1990s -- which I thought was just awful.


I just don't find his films entertaining. They have a washed out feel to me like a Saturday Night Light skit that's run way too long (as most of them do). It's like the joke was in the title of the film and he thought that would sustain you for 98 minutes.

I see these more as poorly written dramas with a few flat jokes than I do as comedies.

Also, I feel like almost nothing happens in his films. I remember almost nothing about his plots except the portion that makes it into the titles -- girl gets pregnant, guy wants to get laid, guy wants to get away from girlfriend. Beyond that, it's all sketchy.

T-Rav said...

From what I know, opinions of "Dinner for Schmucks" are kind of polarized. You either really like it or you really hate it. I think it breaks down over whether you at all enjoy improv or not. To the extent that film was a success, I attribute it to Steve Carell, who is of course great at that art.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, Ironically, I really don't like Carell, which is why I thought I would hate it. But he surprised me and really pulled it off. That's probably why I like it -- because it was so much better than the disaster I was expecting.

tryanmax said...

Not to sound like a Democrat, but I think we can all be right on this one. Certainly Apatow's earlier stuff have a very different vibe from later stuff like Funny People which, I agree, was little more than a showcase for his comedian buddies. Though I did like the twist where Adam Sandler learns nothing from his near-death experience.

Actually, come to think of it, maybe that is my niche. The characters in Apatow films chronically don't grow, or at least not much. In that sense, his films are less like comedies or even dramas with flat jokes, but more like tragedies, albeit, with 5-minute Hollywood endings tacked on. Some people go in for anything sci-fi whether it's good or not (certainly no one here). Maybe I just go in for tragedies regardless of quality.

If there is one thing I think we can all agree on, it's that Seth Rogen needs to go.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I can completely agree with the getting rid of Rogen plan. He's awful.

I have to say I've seen almost no growth in Apatow's characters either. And while I don't think all characters need to grow in a story, I don't see Apatow offering anything else instead.

tryanmax said...

I will grant one exception. I like Pineapple Express because it is just ridiculous and I don't think there is any substitute for Rogen in that film.

But in films like Knocked Up, it is just unbelievable that Katherine Heigl would enter into a serious relationship with him even if she was bearing his child.

Oh, and can he and Judd just knock it off with the "I'm so Jewish" schtick? You're hair is curly and your parents sent you to Hebrew school. I get it. Other than that, you're about as Jewish as a pulled-pork sandwich.

Anonymous said...

Andrew and tryanmax -

Interesting thoughts about the character development, or lack thereof. I agree with Andrew - the characters don't change until the plot demands it and even then, it can come off as kinda arbitrary.

And I have nothing against characters who don't grow or learn - I'm the biggest Seinfeld fan you'll ever meet and the mantra on that show was "no hugging, no learning."

Anonymous said...

Oh, and re: his other films, I thought Pineapple Express was okay (but Danny McBride's schtick is starting to get old), I barely remember Walk Hard, except that the Blu-Ray had a 2.5 hour extended version which they jokingly referred to as the "self-indulgent" cut, and Step Brothers was okay. I think the funniest thing in the film for me was a scene that was cut. I watched the deleted scenes and I remember thinking at one point, "Hey, why'd they cut this?!"

tryanmax said...

I've managed to steer fairly clear of Danny McBride, not intentionally, so he can't ruin a movie for me. But I can totally see how he could if you were sick of him.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, In some films, there's just no reason for the characters to grow or learn. James Bond doesn't grow (or shouldn't) because it's not that kind of film.

My problem with Apatow is that he films are the kind where they SHOULD grow, but they don't. And I don't think he's being clever about it either. In other words, there's no cool/subversive point he's trying to make, he just either doesn't think about it or doesn't know how to present it. As a result, the films seem incomplete to me.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I can't see Heigel going for him either under any circumstances.

And I'm sick of all the ethnic stuff. I just don't find the "look at me, I'm ___ and I have a ___ mom" kind of comedy funny.

tryanmax said...

I also have to say that I am rather disappointed in John C. Reilly's script picks recently. He used to be one of those actors that could get me to see a picture just because he was in it. He was a very good character actor. But now that he's gone comic lead, I'm just not feeling the love anymore.

tryanmax said...

"the characters don't change until the plot demands it and even then, it can come off as kinda arbitrary."

"his films are the kind where they SHOULD grow, but they don't."

Those statements both sum up why I landed on the tragedy thing. In most tragedy, even the great works by Sophocles and Shakespeare, the characters stubbornly beat their head against a wall and never develop except maybe at the last minute as doom stares them in the face.

I'm not intending to say that Apatow has anything in common with Sophocles or Shakespeare. And, of course, sticking a happy ending on a tragedy makes the whole thing worthless. And yet, there remains the tragedy of a person who just doesn't get $#!+.

The more I think on it, the more I believe I am a sucker for tragedies. (All my favorite Shakespeare are tragedies...and The Tempest.) It's kinda hard to tell though. People aren't clamoring to the box office for tragedies these days.

Andrew, maybe you could do a piece on Hollywood tragedies. Or maybe I could. Flip a coin.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Tragedy is very compelling stuff, particularly because the audience usually knows what the character should do but the character just refuses to do it.

I think tragedy is vastly underused in modern dramas, which mistake pure suffering for something more interesting.

The problem I have with seeing Apatow's films as tragedies is that I really don't think that's what he's thinking. I think he sat down and wrote what he thought was just a hilariously funny film.... and it wasn't. I honestly don't think he bothers to think about the structures of what he writes -- he just says "hey, I'll write a story about a dude who knocks up some hot chick" and then he asks himself "what would happen next?" without really coming up with anything larger.

AndrewPrice said...

When I look at the great comedies that have stuck with us in the past -- things like the Marx Brothers' work or Reitman or even the Ab-Zucker-Post stuff, I always get a sense of what they are doing. They take something like a love story or a tragedy or a coming of age film and they start with that like a skeleton. Then they let their comedic impulses fill in the scenes as they write the more serious story.

I don't feel that with Apatow. With him, I get the sense he had "the funny" idea first -- "dude, he knocks up a really hot chick." Then he comes up with a couple scenes where this idea plays out -- "dude, this would be cool." Then he writes the rest of the film as filler.

I think that's why his work is so unsatisfying, because there's nothing to it except the kernel of an idea and a couple scenes.

I think he would be much better served if he wrote full movies and then added the humor rather than trying to come up with the funny first and the treating the movie as filler.

tryanmax said...

I won't fault any creative endeavor for being compelling by accident. If there is one thing I've learned from my literature studies, it's that authors don't have nearly as much in mind as the critics think they do.

AndrewPrice said...

Yeah, in most cases that's true.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Superb analysis Scott!
Also many good points in the comments.

There definitely has been a dearth of good comedies for quite awhile now.

The last comedy, or comedy/action I laughed out loud at was Tropical Thunder, and it was a breath of fresh air because it wasn't made with the hollywood PC code (which ruins films IMO. Most folks hate PC but many in hollywood never seem to learn that).

I also laughed a lot at Red which wasn't a comedy but had great comedy in it, and Kickass was, well, kickass funny but again, it wasn't a pure comedy. Same with The Rundown.

In fact, I find the funniest films I remember for at least the last two decades are mainly action/scifi/fantasy/horror/dramas that had comedy in it.

I also concur with Indi that trying to make the main point of a film as acceptable to as many people as possible (which may or may not be PC related) hurts the quality of films and, in the long run hurts profits.

GHardly anyone wants to see films that are "all inclusive" (except for Christians, rich folks, conservatives and white guys).
That's just PC rebranded.

Of course that doesn't preclude a film from being liked by virtually everyone in most cultures (like a lot of Disney animations, Pixar et al) but it shouldn't be the main focus.

Looney Tunes (old cartoons) are still widely enjoyed worldwide and yet they were never PC or worried about offending the sensibilities of the easily offended by anything that can possibly offend crowd (and some things one would think no one could be offended by).

Suffice to say that some people are bound and determined to be offended regardless and I don't give a damn if they are offended.

C'mon producers, directors and writers:
just make better films and quit letting the PC/coexist, BORING and uncreative imbeciles make your films BORING, uncreative and unentertaining.

IOW's, grow a pair of brass cajones and be artists for pete's sake (and ours).
Don't be afraid to make fun of anyone or anything but make sure it's fun.
Fear shouldn't be the driving force when making films and I'm not just talking about comedies.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Of course, other problems include bad writing as many of youse guys have mentioned.
I have to say that most writers in hollywood are highly overpayed for the dreg they spew.

As Andrew has said, most of the best writers write for tv.
I can think of tv shows I have LOL'd at recently.
Psych, Monk (until it sadly ended), and although not a comedy Supernatural still has consistently funny stuff in it's
6th season.
Heck, Justified has had more comedy gold than most comedy films
I have seen in years.
Compelling drama too and I hope that continues to be the case. :^)

tryanmax said...

Yeah, come to think of it, the funniest films I think I've seen lately are the Iron Man films.

I have heard good things about the new film with Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis, but I haven't seen that yet.

Anonymous said...

Andrew –

Re: character growth, I agree. And there is nothing “daring” or “subversive” about any of his films. For better or worse, the Farrelly Brothers were more daring with There’s Something About Mary (mostly in terms of the bodily fluid gags, but still). Much of what Apatow does, for better or worse, has been done before.

But I can't entirely blame Apatow for this: he never claimed to be a "subversive" filmmaker.

And re: the ethnic stuff, it doesn’t bother me one way or another. As far as Jewish characters are concerned, part of me is like, “Well, it’s about time!” On the other hand, look at who these characters are... not exactly good examples of the faith (then again, neither am I). :-)

Sometimes I wonder what would've happened if Apatow's fellow Larry Sanders writer Paul Simms had been given the keys to the kingdom. Simms created NewsRadio which I find funnier than any five minutes of any random Apatow movie.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax –

Interesting thoughts about tragedies. I don’t see Apatow’s films as tragedies and I would almost respect him more if he came out and said, “I make tragedies. These are what these movies are.” It would give us a new context with which to view his work and that could lead to additional insight. The same applies to something like Seinfeld but on that show, there was no final five-minute wrap-up where the characters learn their lessons. They never did, even in the last episode (which I hated) and they went to jail for it.

I need to read up on Apatow’s writing process. I understand his first drafts are always long, as most first drafts are. He just needs to do a better job at discerning what belongs and what doesn’t.

Anonymous said...

USS Ben –

Interesting thoughts! I never understood why people – especially conservatives – would argue that every film must appeal to everyone. Some filmmakers get it right (the folks at Pixar are the masters of the “four quadrant film”: young, old, male, female) but a writer can only write a story that appeals to him. Someone once said: “The job of an artist is not to make what the public wants. The artist’s job is to make the public want what he wants.”

I think part of this problem stems from the fact that, unlike almost every other field, the amount of money made is not an arbiter of quality. I produce a car, it makes a ton of money, it’s safe to assume the car is well-liked by the public. Movies are not the same and the only true mark of success is time, not money or awards.

As far as comedies, too many comedies today are the same, much like many superhero movies seem to come off an assembly line. I liked The Hangover since it tried to do something different and there was a story with an interesting mystery and so on. The sequel just copied it and it wasn’t as funny.

And I LOVE Looney Tunes. I just bought the Blu-Ray set and some of the cartoons look like they were animated yesterday. ☺

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I do think television is where the real action is at these days -- ironically. I think they have better writers and more freedom (especially on HBO) to take risks. Plus, they are playing to purely American audiences so they still do all the complex and wordy stuff that films just don't do.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's a great quote and very true. If you are trying to make something everyone will like, then you will end up making something no one will like. It is much better to make what interests you and then try to make it good enough that it interests other people.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Ben and Scott, I have long believed that the best humor starts with solid storytelling. Even the best stand up guys aren't just cracking jokes, they're telling stories that get you involved.

I think that's the secret to humor: always start with a solid story first.

tryanmax said...

See, I don't feel any need to respect Apatow in that way. If he is setting out to make comedies and accidentally creates modern tragedies that I enjoy, so be it. I don't think he'd tell me to stop seeing his films unless I can appreciate them as comedy as he intends. I think he'd just say, "Thanks for watching."

If that turns out to not be true, I can just as easily oblige not watching.

This puts me in mind of when I saw Saw, the first one. I got to the theater before the buzz really started taking off, and I didn't really know what to expect. (This was also before "torture porn" was a term.)

I thought it was hilarious! I laughed the whole way through because it was so hammy that I was convinced it was intended to be a spoof of some kind. Of course, I find it impossible to take Cary Elwes seriously, anyway. I actually came face-to-face with someone afterward who told me I was sick.

But even though I didn't "get" the movie like I was supposed to, I left satisfied that I'd gotten my money's worth because I still enjoyed it.

Incidentally, I haven't seen a Saw film since.

Anonymous said...

Tryanmax -

Sorry for the late reply.

I have no problem with filmmakers who intend to produce A and the end result looks more like B.

I also think part of the problem is simply with the way Apatow's movies are marketed. They're sold as coming "from the mind of a comic visionary" so when the final result fails to impress or comes across as rather conventional, of course we'll be disappointed.

When Apatow directs something off the beaten path, like an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, then I'll be impressed. (Disclaimer: I use that as an example but it's the only Charlie Kaufman-written movie that I enjoy.)

As for Saw, it ain't my bag. :-)

tryanmax said...

Yeah, apparently Saw ain't my bag either. I guess as a marketing person, I habitually separate the product (in this case Apatow) from the hype (that he's a comic genius). I have no way of knowing how Apatow sees himself, though I suspect he thinks he is funnier than he is.

I guess I'm just splitting hairs because we're both saying essentially the same thing: we're fine with Apatow films, but please don't try to sell us on the idea that he's a comic genius.

Besides, I don't think it is much of a compliment to say his comedies work better as tragedies. It just happens to be the way I relate to them. Come to think of it, I never have sat down with an Apatow film thinking "Get ready for some laughs!" It's usually just, "Okay, here's the movie everybody's been talking about."

Outlaw13 said...

Reference modern or new comedies, my favorite of the recient bunch is Role Models, there are some lines in that one that break me up every time.

Interesting take on Apatow. I think he needs someone he trusts to tighten up his shot group. I generally liked Freeks and Geeks and Undeclaired, but even those presentations suffered from diarrhea of the script. His movies have a few funny spots, but if you tightened them up and tried to eliminate the dead spots you'd have a 30 minute presentation.

Anonymous said...

Outlaw -

I also liked Role Models, more so than most of Apatow's work.

I also agree re: the length. I'm actually not a member of the "Comedies must be 90 minutes or less!" school of filmmaking but, like so many other filmmakers (cough George Lucas), Apatow can use a second opinion sometimes.

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