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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

Judd Apatow is a Funny Person

Judd Apatow is funny.  I mean that in both sense of the word.  There is, of course, no doubt that Apatow is one of the funniest comedy writers out there and he is one of my personal favorites.  I think the films and TV shows that he has shepherded into production have been some of the finest examples of comedy; his work as a producer and writer had the ability to find humor in life’s little idiosyncrasies which in turn made his work all the more touching and heartfelt.

When he stepped behind the camera with The 40 Year Old Virgin, I was absolutely blown away; not only was it one of the funniest films I had ever seen, but it introduced me to new comedy stars and a new style of comedy.  I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard as when Seth Rogen tells Steve Carrell to “be like David Caruso in Jade.”  It was funny because it was such a strange reference, but also because I got it while others around me didn’t, which made me feel special for understanding the reference and knowing why it was funny; like I was a part of this special new club or fraternity.

With Knocked Up, he got a little deeper on us.  The quest to get laid is only the first fifteen minutes of the film, then it’s about dealing with the repercussions of that quest.  One of my absolute favorite moments in that film is when Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann have an argument after she finds him sneaking out to play fantasy baseball.  It’s got a lot of really funny lines, but it also speaks to a basic truth about relationships; that as they go along, it becomes more difficult to find time for yourself and when one person does that without the other’s knowledge, lying to them about where they’ve been, it becomes almost a rational argument when Leslie Mann insists it’s worse than cheating.  But again, Apatow was also dealing with a brotherhood of men and how that kind of friendship works.  I enjoyed Knocked Up immensely, not as much as his first film, but really close to it.

It’s been over a week since I’ve seen Funny People and I’m still wrestling with it because it is, without a doubt, a challenging film.  I didn’t laugh half as much as I did in Apatow’s first two films, but I also don’t think I was supposed to.  With each film, it’s easy to see that they’ve become closer and closer to Apatow’s real life, which is an honest way to approach his work.  It’s similar, in a way, to how rappers start their careers by talking about being from the streets and then eventually singing about how they have a lot of money and bling; it might sound tacky, but it’s more genuine than when those rappers still talk about the streets while living in mansions.

Apatow is living in a mansion now, for sure, and he is clearly very aware of that.  With The 40 Year Old Virgin, he was making a film about characters that were happy with their particular stations in life, even if that means working at an electronic store.  In Knocked Up, he’s dealing with a young man and a young woman who are trying to get somewhere but also a married couple that has gotten to a comfortable lifestyle and the complications that ensue; it’s easy to see which couple Apatow finds more in common with.  And then with Funny People, he’s dealing very much with where he is in life and where he could be if he had become a huge star at an earlier age.

It’s an oddly structured work, to be sure, one in which the main thrust of the film is resolved ninety minutes in with an hour left to go.  That last hour is what fascinates and perplexes me and has caused much consternation for audiences.  The first ninety minutes has two parallel and important stories going on: Seth Rogen’s character trying to become a decent comic while apprenticing for Adam Sandler’s character and living with two roommates who are either more talented or more successful than he is and then there’s the Sandler character’s fight with cancer and how he deals with it and trying to find a legacy in his life.  Then the last hour mostly concerns itself with a sojourn up to San Francisco and Sandler trying to win back the love of his life, Leslie Mann.

What’s interesting to me about that last hour is that it is clearly Apatow’s imagination of what he would do if he were successful in the way his buddy Sandler was.  He could have seen himself becoming a big star who had a lot of meaningless encounters and living a somewhat sedentary and hedonistic lifestyle with no confidantes but for the other famous people he knew.  And he also saw himself still pining for Leslie Mann, his real-life wife.  In essence, that last hour is a love letter to his wife and kids and how important they are to his life and his happiness, giving him stability.

Perhaps I’m reading too much into the psychology of Judd Apatow, a man I have never met, but I think it is a very personal film and that he is exorcising some of those selfish demons with this film.  In my view, it is very much the wondering of a successful man about the life he could have led; and in the end, Apatow came to realize that he’s happy to be where he is now, rather than ending up like Sandler’s character. The Rogen character is interesting too because it seems to be the younger version of Apatow – or Sandler’s character – who is still fresh and naïve enough to be awed by the idea of being a success in his profession.  More than that, Rogen’s character is young enough to have scruples, to be happy with not being on his friend’s terrible sitcom because it is beneath him and silly.  Nevermind that that guest appearance could lead him to do the things he wants to do because he has the audacity of youth to think that something better will come along, something that will not force him to sell out.  Hell, he’d rather be working at a deli; but then again, if his roommate asked him, he’d probably do it in a heartbeat.  It’s only after the fact that he can say he didn’t care.

The film is filled with these amazingly real interactions and the hints at even more profundity than is laid before us.  I was particularly enthralled with the actress Aubrey Plaza who plays the love interest for Rogen’s character, but is first bedded by Rogen’s roommate Jason Schwartzman.  Plaza is truly a strong screen presence while displaying the dryness of someone like Steven Wright.  Even when she’s in the middle of an argument, her voice stays level yet she is able to convey deeper emotions with the way she moves her eyes behind those thick-framed hipster glasses she wears.  She’s truly a find and someone needs to find her a vehicle next.

Funny People is indeed funny.  I found the stand-up routines to be uniformly excellent, especially Rogen’s bit about farting on an airplane.  But, different from Apatow’s previous films, there’s not a whole lot to quote to your friends afterwards.  The comedy comes more from interpersonal relationships and how those attitudes change and veer in different directions rather than being about specific lines.  One thing that was definitely a nice change of pace was seeing Adam Sandler being absolutely filthy in a comedy.  I’m sure a lot of people in my generation listened to Sandler’s dirty comedy albums growing up and it was always strange to see him mostly in PG-13 films.  It was nice to see him cursing in a film that wasn’t directed byPaul Thomas Anderson.  And Rogen actually hits a lot of nice dramatic notes in this film and combined with his genius performance in Observe and Report, he’s got me back on the bandwagon again.

I find myself with the strange opinion of thinking it is both Apatow’s best movie yet and my least favorite.  This is a film that is clearly operating on a higher plane than his previous films, rife with the darkness of reality, but it is definitely more of a chore to sit through in parts.  So while I appreciate and understand what Apatow is doing in the last hour of the film and I adore the point he is trying to make, it still doesn’t make it entertaining.  But that also doesn’t mean I’m not glad it exists.

The truth of the matter is that I will throw on The 40 Year Old Virgin at any time of any day, but for Funny People I will need to be in a specific mood to watch it again.  And that’s not a bad thing at all.  Hell, I wouldn’t watch There Will Be Blood at any old time either, that doesn’t make it any less of a masterpiece.

I want to be clear that I have come to praise Judd Apatow for the work he does in Funny People and that I think it is the best work he has done yet.  But I’m still wrestling with it.

RIP Jean-Paul Roussillon

I haven’t seen this mentioned in too many places, but I just wanted to remember Jean-Paul Roussillon, the squat French actor with the most endearing chubby cheeks since S.Z. Sakall.  He died on July 31st at the age of 78.  Roussillon was in Arnaud Desplechin’s masterpieceA Christmas Tale, which was my favorite film of 2008; he played Abel Vuillard, the patriarch of the film.  In that film, he is the comforting and sweet center of a rather poisonous family, forever cleaning up after every mess figuratively and literally.  I can’t say I’m familiar with a lot of his earlier work, but I know that I will become acquainted with it now and I urge you to see A Christmas Tale if you haven’t already.  It will enrich your life and you can honor Roussillon’s in the process.

– Noah Forrest
August 10, 2009
Noah Forrest is a 26-year-old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writers and do not neccessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon