catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 1 :: 2008.01.11 — 2008.01.25


Sentimental filth

One can scarcely find a person whose chuckles have not recently been stirred by the mind of Judd Apatow. Whether you’re watching television or blowing your hair back at the local mega-theatre, Apatow has for the last fifteen years progressively emerged at the forefront of contemporary comedy. Whether serving in a creative capacity as a writer, producer, director, or otherwise, Apatow has come alongside an entourage of brilliant writers and comedic thinkers such as Jake Kasdan (son of the famed writer/director Lawrence Kasdan) and Seth Rogen.

These folks are forging an influential medium characterized by both sentimentality and filth that is changing the face of modern comedy. One might just think of it as just another flavor of comedy but I’d like to suggest that this amalgamation of sentimentalism and filth is tilling the ground to harvest a new and broader cult base. These movies appeal both to the youth market as well as those carrying the burden of mortgages. The implication of these comedies most assuredly weighs heavily on the current milieu, specifically in the realm of adolescents and college students but what Apatow seems to do is broach a delicate and fun loving nostalgia and sentimentalism that broadens his range of followers.

These films are an emersion into age-old adages and themes like adolescence, happiness, identity, friendship, and family. Undoubtedly, these words mean different things to different people. Though some may be drawn to more romantic comedy and others gangsters, one cannot escape the common ground of adolescence, (the loss of) innocence, sexuality and family. They’re wellsprings from which to draw basic and attractive stories. These films are quite broad and shouldn’t be confined merely to the sub-genre of the sex-comedy. In case you’re not familiar with Apatow’s work, the following is a list of past, current, and future projects (in no particular order) and then just a few thoughts on the various films. 

  1. Freaks & Geeks/Undeclared
  2. The Cable Guy
  3. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy 
  4. The 40 Year Old Virgin
  5. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
  6. Knocked Up
  7. Superbad
  8. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
  9. The TV Set
  10. Pineapple Express/Drillbit Taylor/Step Brothers

When it comes to television, I can only mention a few of Apatow’s projects, which range from the Larry Sanders Show to the Ben Stiller Show, from the cream of the crop Freaks and Geeks to the follow up series Undeclared. Now, again I’m not suggesting that Apatow is the only mind behind these various successes but I’m drawing attention primarily to his presence in relation to others as well such as Jake Kasdan, Seth Rogen, and Evan Goldberg.

Where Freaks and Geeks was both a combination of comedy and drama hinging on a group of high school students, Undeclared is similar in tone but focuses on a group of ‘undeclared’ college students. Freaks aired on NBC in 1999-2000 while Undeclared aired on FOX from 2001-2002. Both shows developed a cult following but fell victim to apparent ratings failure. Regardless the work on these shows featured the emergence of Jake Kasdan, Seth Rogen, and Judd Apatow among many others. These shows feature incendiary writing that focuses on the myriad of memories, moments of both fun and humiliation, that accompany our adolescent journeys through high school and college.

More subtle is the Ben Stiller directed The Cable Guy, which Apatow rewrote (though not officially credited). The Cable Guy is a spectacular example of intertextual popular-culture featuring loads of television and film references. 

Then there’s Will Ferrell. Just begin any quote from Anchorman or Talladega Nights and see if someone around you won’t finish the quote. Working on college campuses for the past five years has afforded me plenty of evidence for this sentiment. The potential for quotable lines is endless. And just watch the montage of prayers in Talladega Nights and see if you don’t have material for any given family meal.

Perhaps the most influential of the bunch has been The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad. Both Virgin and Knocked Up featured Apatow in the director’s chair in addition to his writing. Though he’s written other films such as Celtic Pride, Fun with Dick and Jane, and Walk Hard, this was Apatow’s opportunity to direct a film having already done so on various television shows. Any attempt to explain these films will be a failure. You just have to see them to really understand.

The most recent is causing massive waves of fanhood. Superbad, written by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (notice the lead characters names). What’s happening with Superbad and the others is much bigger than Apatow himself. What’s happening is the emergence of gifted young writers and actors who are able to capture the essence of both adolescent and middle-aged humor through the lens of filth and sentimentalism. Seth Rogen’s acting career has certainly aided his emergence as a writer and he continues to get opportunities to write.  These films have also brought us Jonah Hill, who’s also beginning his own screenplays, and Michael Cerah of the recent gem Juno. Bottom-line, Apatow’s work along with others’ is not only supplying an ample amount of current flicks but generating enough buzz and success that the studios want more, more, and more. They’re also breeding young talent and that’s both intelligent and worthy of further consideration. 

Another recent film, an underrated comedy in my estimation, is Jake Kasdan’s The TV Set. Jake is the son of Lawrence Kasdan who’s writing credits include The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the neo-noir Body Heat, Return of the Jedi, Silverado, and for all of you High Fidelity fans, The Big Chill. Couple this with the recent release of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and you get another sense of how active Apatow is and how significant these films are.

Coming this summer will be another series of money-makers, either in the theatre, on DVD, or both. One is Step Brothers, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, which tells the story of two men who become enemies of sorts when their single parents tie the knot. It’s sure to be hilarious based merely on the fact that Will Ferrell is in it—that and the fact that these two actors have great chemistry. Reilly is an accomplished and versatile actor and Ferrell just plain oozes hilarity with every square inch of his existence.

Next, there’s You Don’t Mess with the Zohan featuring Adam Sandler, which tells the story of an Israeli terrorist who fakes his death so that he can move to NYC and be a hair stylist. Another film will feature Texan Owen Wilson as a hired gun for a group of high school freshmen who are targeted by a school bully, entitled Drillbit Taylor. Though the film is only produced by Apatow, it features Seth Rogen as well as the iconic adolescent guru John Hughes. Then there’s the upcoming Pineapple Express, surprisingly (I’m very curious) directed by indie Carolinian David Gordon Green (All the Real Girls) and described in the LA Times as a “weed action movie.” The screenplay was written by the aforementioned tandem of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (Superbad).

All in all, get beyond the fact that these are simple unrelated movies. I hope you can see the broad influence that is taking place in these various television shows and films. Whether you take a fresh or first time gander at Freaks and Geeks or head to the video store or theatre, you can hardly escape the influence of Judd Apatow. I invite you to consider this progression and its influence upon our culture, its simple but important discourse, and of course just good ole down-home laughs—filthy but nonetheless good.

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