This is a guest post from Dave Corkery, an online content professional living in Sydney, Australia. He runs an educational site at davelearningstuff.com and had his letter read out on the January 6th episode of the Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo radio show (mp3 – scroll to 16:20).
The noughties was a good decade for former stand-up comic/writer/producer/director/beardy man Judd Apatow. He started it with his widely acclaimed cult TV show Freaks and Geeks and ended it as the head of the massively successful Apatow Productions, with a host of (for the most part) critically favoured and publicly adored comedic films under his belt. Knocked Up, Superbad, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Step Brothers are examples of hits that have become beloved, overly-quoted comedies. So ingrained in the cultural zeitgeist are these films that they’ve even been able to supply enough material for an entire “spoof” movie.
It’s safe to say that Mr Apatow has experienced the kind of rise to fame that is often associated with meteors.
But I don’t get it.
I know he hasn’t written or directed every movie that bears his name, but when I refer to Judd Apatow movies, I’m referring to any film he has played a part in, even as a producer. His name is frequently wheeled out for these film’s marketing campaigns, and they’re all sold to us as being from the House of Judd Apatow, so I’m afraid he must bear the brunt of my scorn.
It’s not that I don’t think the man has some talent or that these films are plain bad. I just think they’re all terribly over-rated. There are of course a few funny parts in all of them (how could you not like McLovin), and there are likeable characters (Seth Rogen in Knocked Up). But that’s just not enough to make an above-average, well-rounded comedy. Most of these films don’t even work as films. They’re overly-long, flabby, self-indulgent love letters to themselves.
If anything, the phenomenal success of the Apatow stable is indicative of the frighteningly low standards of other mainstream comedies. In a decade that gave us Date Movie, Epic Movie and Superhero Movie, it’s no wonder Apatow’s films are being hailed as genius. If he released a movie of Seth Rogen farting on stage for 90 minutes, it would be funnier than 5 minutes of Disaster Movie, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good enough.
Knocked Up and Anchorman are probably his only movies that I would describe as an enjoyable experience from start to finish (although admittedly, I have not seen every single Apatow production).
The 40 Year Old Virgin is a terrible movie. Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall are just ok. Banging my funny bone against a wall for two and a half hours would have been funnier than Funny People, the worst offender by far.
The major problem with most of these titles is that they are unbearably long. As a general rule, I don’t think comedies should be longer than 90 minutes. Funny People was 146 minutes long. That is unacceptable. There was nowhere near enough material to justify such a bloated running time. On any other movie, the producer would be standing behind the director pointing at his watch. But Judd Apatow produces EVERYTHING, and clearly has no sense of pace or timing. He must find it hard to say no to the director when it’s himself.
This is essentially all that happens in Funny People: (spoiler alert, I guess – even though the entire three acts are in the trailer) – Washed up comic thinks he’s going to die, doesn’t die, thinks he wants to get back with his old girlfriend, changes his mind and then everything is back to the way it was in the very beginning.
During 146 minutes, I think I laughed twice. That’s one laugh every 73 minutes. Airplane has about three laughs every minute. I know which I’d rather watch.
Another problem is the overuse of the same faces. Apatow is one Danny Elfman short of becoming the Tim Burton of the comedy world. His wife and his best friends show up in all his work. Cast some new faces, for God’s sake. The world is full of struggling comedians/actors, something I’m sure Apatow can appreciate, having been one.
Obviously, comedy is highly subjective, so many will disagree with me. No doubt somebody will read this and consider me an ass for not finding The 40 Year Old Virginfunny. Clearly these films have all found audiences and I can’t argue with that. But I just don’t consider Judd Apatow to be a “Funny Person” and that’s that.