Saturday, April 12, 2008

Apatow Roundup

There are chick flicks for men...and Judd Apatow makes them.
You may not be expecting Freudian symbolism in movies starring Steve Carell, but that's exactly what you're getting.

And while Trish may be chopping vegetables, what you're also getting is the meat of insecurity in what are becoming known as "Apatow films," that is, movies written, directed or produced by Syosset native Judd Apatow, the latest of which - "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" - opens Friday. Apatow produced that one. He co-wrote and directed "Virgin," wrote and directed "Knocked Up," and produced "Superbad," "Talladega Nights" and "Anchorman." You couldn't do all this without a formula, it seems safe to say, and in this case the formula involves the male at his worst, the male under siege and, also, in pain.

Pain, of course, has been part of comedy as long as there's been tragedy. (Comedy is tragedy happening to someone else, as W.C. Fields once said, and considering the humiliation Fields suffered on film, he could work for Apatow tomorrow.) You need a golden idol of comedy? Consider the banana peel. But the so-called "Apatows" - which have occasionally been directed by Adam McKay ("Anchorman," "Talladega") and are often written by their actors (Jason Segel is both writer and star of "Sarah Marshall") - revel in the humiliation of men.

Some of it is self-inflicted: Andy's bike helmet is fashion suicide; Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) of "Knocked Up" could, in fact, get a job and put down the gas-mask bong. For others, culpability is less direct. In "Sarah Marshall," Peter Bretter (Segel) is dumped by the title character, cruelly, inexplicably - and yet, he seems to have brought it on himself. He's been known to hang around in sweatpants. He subsists mostly on teeming bowls of Trix and milk. And he has dug himself a career rut deep enough to fit Jonah Hill.[...]

These are, uniformly, child-men, these Apatow guys, arrested adolescents. Emotionally stunted, insecure, possibly paranoid, they lack the survival instincts and/or social skills of any woman in any of their films. Weakness is their strong suit. Their reaction to feminism has been unconditional surrender.

The two fallacies in these movies are 1) that men are actually like this and 2) that they are not.

"I think we all just make movies about ourselves," said Nicholas Stoller, who makes his directing debut with "Sarah Marshall." "I don't know anyone, male or female, who isn't vulnerable, even if they're guarded about it. It's just the truth about humans in general.

"If I see a movie," he added, "and the male lead is just totally a man, it's usually a fantasy - or it's a movie I just don't buy."

Admitting that "all of us just cry a lot," Stoller (he wrote "Fun With Dick and Jane" and the upcoming "Yes Man") said that while the humiliation aspect of all these films is funny, they're not just for cheap laughs. When Sarah Marshall ( Kristen Bell) breaks up with Peter at the beginning of the film, he's totally naked. It makes you smile - or is that a wince?[...]

"It's not a conspiracy," said Nicholas Stoller, who directed "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." "I think it's a practice as old as movies: If somebody pops in a comedy, you try to make him the star of the next film."

His advice: "If you're an actor, and you're cast in a Judd Apatow movie, grow a beard."

No word on Paul Rudd or his razor.
Coming Soon speaks with Nicholas Stoller.

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