I just read In defence of Judd Apatow by Simon Brew, after finding the link at [Insert "Clever" Links Post Title] by SamuraiFrog. I disagree with three-quarters of what is said in there.
I think The 40-Year-Old Virgin is pretty darn good and Knocked Up is overlong and shallow. I was mildly disappointed in Pineapple Express and thought Forgetting Sarah Marshall was remarkably strong.
I was also a big fan of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. I'm currently unsure if that has more to do with the format, serialized television drama vs. feature film, or if it's just that I'm a bigger fan of Paul Feig than Apatow.
Honestly, a lot of the titles on the list of movies have too much of the post-Farrelly Brothers, too "out there" to be a "real" comedy but too "real" to be a the previous school of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker style of "out there" comedy. This style seems to resonate strongly with my generation and even more so with the generation just younger than me, but it rarely works for me.
To the extent I'm part of the "backlash", that's the biggest reason. I think too many of these movies tell stories that are dependent on me accepting the emotional truth of the characters and then throws in too many over-broad implausibilities for me to feel grounded within that reality.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which is certainly my favorite since The 40-Year-Old Virgin and possibly my favorite overall of the Apatow house movies, suffers only a little of that.
The stuff with Billy Baldwin and Russell Brand, basically the media parody material, feels too much broader than fits comfortably with the core of the movie. It's only a shade or two too broad, which means it doesn't knock too badly up against the rather solid romantic comedy, which, in retrospect, almost makes it more frustrating that it comes so close and doesn't hit it out of the park.
The things I was impressed with, and, yes, this will involve a lot of spoilers, for those of you who might be concerned over these things.
I liked that the Sarah Marshall was a real character and not a straw ex-girlfriend set-up to represent a ex-girlfriend "type". A story from her perspective would be easy to imagine and would feel just as valid. The relationship didn't work because they didn't work as a couple, not because either of them was flawed in some manner that made them altogether unable to function within a relationship.
At the climax... I stated this was a romantic comedy, after the part where the boy loses the girl... Peter Bretter, played by the movie's writer Jason Segel, makes two gestures to win back Rachel Jansen, played by Mila Kunis. She has told him not to contact her in any way.
Now, obviously there's no way for him to completely honor that and still win her back. However his gestures are still respectful of her position.
Too often in romantic comedies, the gestures people make are things that would likely seem less romantic and more creepy if they happened in real life.
"He filled your apartment ceiling to floor with flowers? Did he break in? Does he still have a key? Is he going to pay your composting bill?"
"He put up a personal message on the JumboTron? Did he follow you to the game? Can't he leave you alone?"
All of these things were refreshing to me in a way that overrode any general concerns about the movie, whatever they may have been. I think Segel shows real depth as a writer, and could easily grow into something more than many of the Apatow house talent, possibly including Mr. Apatow himself.
And on a less critical note, may I say that Ms. Kunis has become quite lovely. I mean, she's always been hot, but in that kind of cute and kind of sexy nymphet kind of way, which has worked. Here she seemed to be growing into a genuinely beautiful young woman.
Damn, I'm so old!
Oh, and "He's like Gandhi. Only better, he likes puppets!" is an awesome, awesome, awesome line!