Latest Reviews

Entries in judd apatow (4)

Wednesday
Dec192012

This Is 40

If you ask me, there are two Judd Apatows: the director and the writer. The director is like Kevin Smith, a man who doesn’t really do much behind the camera in regard to cinematic flare, but knows how to pull a great comedic performance from his actors. The writer, however, is more like Woody Allen. His movies, despite their vulgarity, often hit deeper truths that come from a terrifically structured story, but are long winded, to the point where that sound structure starts to sag, usually all the way to their unnecessary and disappointing conclusions. With the sole exception of The 40 Year Old Virgin, whose runtime felt necessary to the story, all of his movies are like this, from Knocked Up to this week’s This Is 40. That meaning is still there, but you’ll have to sit through a lot of nonsense to get to it.

Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s real life wife) are a married couple who are about to have their 40th birthdays. Naturally, they’re struggling with that realization, especially in the face of their growing troubles. Financially, Pete’s upstart record label, Unfiltered Records, isn’t doing too hot and Debbie’s shop isn’t pulling in enough to keep them afloat. At home, they have their hands full with their two daughters, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), the former of whom has hit that rebellious teenage phase all parents dread. Their sex life is on the decline and neither of them are in particularly good standing with their fathers either. Their seemingly blissful existence is about to be tested.

This Is 40, at its core, isn’t really about age, though one could argue their concerns and stresses stem from it. Rather, the film is about life in general, the type of struggles any family could go through, whether they be in their 40s, 60s or even their 20s. It’s about that inevitable period of time in a marriage when things get so tough that the validity of the marriage comes into question. All couples go through it at some point and the question becomes: do you fight through the rough patches or give in? As a 45 year old man married to a 40 year old woman raising two daughters, the story feels like a personal one from Apatow, like he has lived through much of what happens onscreen, albeit to a more comedic extent. If you haven't lived through it, This Is 40 will remind you of your parents, as many movies about aging couples do. It reminds of their struggle with age and mortality, money and lack thereof, and even how your father would fart and laugh while your mom cringes in disgust.

However, the weak link, the thing tearing those reminders down, is Paul Rudd. Although he has proven to be a solid comedic performer in the past, he has always had one problem: he can’t keep it together. During the funnier parts, like the opening scene where he takes a Viagra and talks about his penis, noticeable cracks in his façade seep through. In a movie like, say, I Love You, Man, where it’s all about laughs and the story means nothing, it’s okay, but in an Apatow film that is trying to reach deeper meaning, where the drama is just as, if not more, important than the comedy, it’s a problem.

Because of this, This Is 40 is the weakest and most tonally inconsistent directorial effort from Apatow yet. But again, there is some truthful resonance here, even if it is hidden in a bloated film that runs well over two hours (someone desperately needed to take the scissors to this thing and cut out 20 minutes, at least). In the end the film is optimistic about love, life and family while still acknowledging how hard they can be. In that sense, it’s realistic, but still finds the time to flourish it up with more than a few laugh-out-loud gut busters. This Is 40 is going to be a tough movie to sell, given that the younger crowd won’t be able to relate and the older crowd may find its more juvenile moments off-putting, but it still works, even if it’s on the basest of levels.

This Is 40 receives 3/5

Friday
Apr272012

The Five-Year Engagement

Romantic comedies so often rely on formula, one should be praised when it dares to break the rules. The last film to do so is 2009’s wonderful (500) Days of Summer. This week’s latest, The Five-Year Engagement isn’t quite as delightful or original as that film, but it avoids many of the usual romantic comedy clichés, including the “meet cute” and the initial dislike between the two main characters before they fall in love.

At the outset of the film, Tom (Jason Segel), a sous chef in a San Francisco restaurant, and Violet (Emily Blunt) have already been together for a year. It’s New Year’s Eve and Tom’s acting a little weird, but it’s only because he’s going to propose to Violet. When he does, she accepts and they begin planning their wedding, but a kink is put in those plans when Violet is accepted into the University of Michigan where she hopes to earn a doctorate in psychology. The plan is to do so in two years, so they put off their wedding until she’s done and Tom quits his upscale job to move with her to Michigan. However, she excels in her field and is eventually promoted, so they find themselves stuck there for a few more years, but Tom’s unhappiness is growing and it’s going to put a strain on the relationship.

The Five-Year Engagement grabs you right off the bat. It presents two likable actors playing two very likable people who love each other deeply. It circumvents the overused screenplay tactics like dramatic misunderstandings and the general awkwardness that most romantic comedy screen couples are forced to go through. They’ve already gotten passed all that and even though it’s only spoken, you can feel that they’ve been together for a year already. Segel and Blunt are simply fantastic together and you can’t help but cherish the love they cherish so much themselves.

You could make the argument that Violet is too much of a looker for a tall, pudgy guy like Tom, but it’s not difficult to see what she sees in him. He’s one of the most dedicated, unselfish people in the world and when she breaks the news to him that she was accepted to Michigan and will be moving there for two years (over a bottle of wine she uses to calm her nerves), he’s genuinely happy for her and actually suggests quitting his job and moving there with her; she doesn’t have to ask. Even after he hears from his boss that she was going to make him the lead chef at one of her new restaurants, he still packs up and leaves, knowing that Violet is well worth the sacrifice. He’s willing to give up his dreams and desires he’s worked so hard to obtain so she can have a chance at obtaining hers. It’s impossible not to like Tom.

Violet isn’t selfish either (despite a poorly expressed sentiment that maybe she deserves to be). She never pressures Tom to do what he does and she is always aware of his feelings. She asks him about them so much, in fact, that he tells her to stop, assuring her he’s okay with the situation. Of course, he’s just being his usual supportive self and isn’t entirely okay with it, especially after she breaks the news to him that her two year stay has been extended (a two year stay that is breezed through far too quickly). After sacrificing two years of his life, he’s ready to move on and get back to San Francisco, which is now impossible if he wants to stay with Violet. This inevitably leads to some unavoidable relationship problems, both wanting to follow their dreams without causing the other to give theirs up, a hope that is unattainable.

The unhappiness of such a stressful situation is more than enough to bring forth drama—and in a way that isn’t indicative of your usual formulaic romantic comedies—but The Five-Year Engagement nonetheless falls victim to screenplay doubt, forcing in unnecessary drama on top of the problems at hand, like when Violet’s professor (Rhys Ifans) kisses her after a night of drunkenness. Their friendship is charming at first, so it’s that much more annoying when it devolves into typical rom-com fare. (It’s such a shame that a man and a woman can’t be friends in a Hollywood movie without eventually hooking up.)

At over two hours, The Five-Year Engagement goes on for too long, especially considering so much of the late movie drama stems from that redundant affair and could have been cut out altogether, but what it botches with the drama, it nails in the comedy. This is a very funny movie—not quite as funny as this year’s 21 Jump Street (but then again, it isn’t trying to be)—and it will leave you smiling more often than not. Regardless of its problems, it’s a movie that just makes you feel good and that in itself is worth giving it a recommendation.

The Five-Year Engagement receives 4/5

Friday
Jul082011

Zookeeper

I have to imagine Kevin James is a likable fellow. He strikes me as the type of person who, if approached on the street, wouldn’t mind chatting with fans, signing autographs and taking a few pictures. However, that affableness doesn’t make up for the fact that he’s made us sit through some of the trashiest, most foul, unwatchable pieces of garbage to come out in recent years. While he may be a nice guy in real life, he has never impressed in his films, which are almost always heavy-laden with physical comedy, an area where his abilities rest somewhere between slight and non-existent. He’s the type of comedian we’re supposed to laugh at simply because of his large visage, but laughing at someone’s weight is comedy of the shallowest order. James has starred in such abominations as Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Grown Ups and The Dilemma, but, if it can be believed, his newest film, Zookeeper, is his worst yet.

James plays Griffin, a zookeeper who is beloved by his animals. Five years prior, he popped the question to then-girlfriend, Stephanie, played by Leslie Bibb, but she shot him down because she was embarrassed by his occupation. Now, she has returned and Griffin once again finds himself falling for her. After overhearing a conversation one night, the animals learn that Griffin may be leaving the zoo. They’re none too happy with this news—besides, he’s the best zookeeper they’ve ever had—so they divulge their secret to him: they can talk. In an attempt to keep him around, they teach him mating techniques so he can snag the girl of his dreams without having to give up his job.

It would be easy to say that Zookeeper is absurd. Any movie with talking animals is, but as a colleague of mine pointed out, it’s weirder than usual and it gets weirder as it goes on. It’s strange enough watching James walk like a bear and learn to attract his mate with urine, but when the gorilla ends up at T.G.I. Friday’s, buys drinks for some cute ladies and ends up courting one of them, the film has clearly gone overboard. If anything can be said for it, Zookeeper doesn’t try to be anything other than what it is.

The problem is that what it is is a movie so desperate for laughs, it quickly resorts to tired slapstick and gross-out humor. In the first ten minutes alone, you’ll see Griffin fall over at least three times, break a tree limb that can’t carry his weight, get shot twice with porcupine quills and get splashed in the face with a lioness’s saliva. I suppose I should be grateful nobody gets covered in feces, especially given the nature of these types of films, but not throwing crap on someone comes off as faint praise for a movie with metaphorical smears all over it.

Zookeeper is juvenile, inane and utterly devoid of anything even remotely interesting, sure, but it’s surprisingly offensive as well, with traces of mild sexism and veiled homophobia throughout. While certainly minute in the big scheme of things, their diminutive nature makes them no less distasteful. For an entire scene, we watch as Griffin insults Stephanie and orders her to do things for him, playing up verbal abuse towards women as funny. Though not funny in any context, it’s especially shocking here given its PG rating and marketing towards children.

The only person treated with respect in the film is the zoo vet, played by Rosario Dawson, but even she is trapped in the archetypal “plain before pretty” role that has been outdated since Freddie Prinze Jr. fell for Rachael Leigh Cook in 1999’s She’s All That. It’s a shame because the filmmakers have gathered a great supporting voice cast that includes Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Maya Rudolph and Don Rickles, yet they are all squandered here, forced to recite insipid lines of dialogue about having thumbs and throwing poo. Frankly, it’s an embarrassing farce. Zookeeper is torturous, and that’s enough to make it one of the most unwatchable movies to be released this year.

Zookeeper receives 0.5/5

Friday
May132011

Bridesmaids

If you’re a fan of The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up or pretty much any raunchy R rated comedy to come out in the last few years, pay attention because this movie is for you. Bridesmaids is easily the funniest movie to be released since Get Him to the Greek and could prove itself to be the funniest movie of the year if The Hangover II fails to reach expectations. Coming from Apatow Productions and channeling much of what made his movies so popular, Bridesmaids nails it. It’s a filthy movie with a cast of strong females that can easily stand toe-to-toe with the big boys. While it is certainly nice to see a film of this ilk filled with strong, prominent women rather than big, loud men, focusing on that would be a mistake. Regardless of gender, Bridesmaids is flat out hilarious.

Kristen Wiig plays Annie, an approaching-40-years-old woman who has yet to settle down. She fools around with Ted, played by Jon Hamm, but he isn’t anywhere close to making a commitment and more or less kicks her out of his house after they’re done having sex. One day, her best friend Lillian, played by Maya Rudolph, surprises her with an announcement. Her boyfriend just popped the question and she wants Annie to be her maid of honor. She accepts, but a fellow bridesmaid named Helen, played by Rose Byrne, starts a competition and does everything she can to take the coveted title from her.

If there was ever a cast worth mentioning, it’s this one. On top of those already mentioned, Bridesmaids stars Jill Clayburgh (in her final role), Melissa McCarthy from TV’s “Mike & Molly,” Wendi McLendon-Covey from Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” and Ellie Kemper, best known as the always smiling secretary from “The Office.” While I can’t speak for their comedic talents solo, putting them together is magic. All of these women bring their own unique style to the show, which creates comedic diversity and keeps the movie from becoming stale too quickly.

Most importantly, however, is that each character is likable, even when they have tantrums that may or may not be warranted. The girls aren’t written like generic romantic comedy females who embarrassingly drown themselves in ice cream and complain about not having a man. Rather, they are three dimensional characters with real problems and emotions that ring true. The parts are written so well and played so convincingly that you’ll find yourself engaged even when you aren’t laughing.

And that’s good because it has stretches where the laughs just don’t come. Many of the jokes stem from the feud between Annie and Helen and they play out for far too long, like an early scene at Lillian's engagement party where they take turn giving speeches in an attempt to one-up the other, passing the microphone no less than six times. Another example comes on an airplane where Annie’s fear of flying, an overused screenplay fear that is boring to begin with, creates a string of unfunny jokes that run on for what feels like at least a good 10-15 minutes. Thankfully, these don’t-know-when-to-quit moments are few and far between. Just when it looks like it’s going to lose itself, Bridesmaids bounces back, usually thanks to the lovely Kristen Wiig, who is so affable and funny you can’t help but fall in love with her.

But just like most other movies with Judd Apatow’s name attached to it, Bridesmaids is too long, running all the way to two hours. Along with the scenes already mentioned, there are plenty of moments that could have easily been cut, tightening the picture and making it that much better. But to complain about such short stretches of tedium seems frivolous considering that the rest of the movie is so wonderful. It’s funny, it has a big heart and it ranks among the best comedies of the last few years. And that’s saying something.

Bridesmaids receives 4/5