The simplest way of putting it is to say that Knocked Up is Judd Apatow‘s best film. I hesitate to say “best work” as there are so many Freaks and Geeks loyalists out there, including yours truly, but the completeness of Apatow’s second film rivals his prematurely ended and wonderfully nostalgic TV show, and I’m not sure it’s a stretch to say it may be the best thing he ever does. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Funny People, and I’ll certainly pay eight bucks to see whatever comes next, but following the uncontrolled kookiness of The 40 Year Old Virgin and coming before the pure self-indulgence of his Sandler/mid-life depression/look at my wife vehicle, Knocked Up seems to be a moment of near perfection on the unpredictable trajectory of Judd Apatow’s career.
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Judd Apatow‘s IMDb profile is weighted surprisingly towards films he’s produced. As of today, he has 38 completed productions with another 10 in development, compared to 8 directorial features and TV shows (including one episode of The Larry Sanders Show). Even his writing credits number in the mid-20s. It’s this space between projects that forces the movies he has directed under a magnifying glass. If he felt like it was good enough to direct and not just throw some money behind then I’m especially curious to see what the fuss is about. On top of that (and this is a point I’ve made before), Apatow’s directed projects have an element of realism lacking in his productions. Whether it’s taste, or effort, or simply coincidence, the films he’s directed work on a loftier plane. In the case of The 40 Year Old Virgin this line, so evident when comparing, for example, Walk Hard to Funny People, seems to bleed a little bit, finding it’s reality through a thick pane of glass fogged by touches of absurdity and breeches of aggression.
It seems like comedy has more to do with putting yourself out there completely than anything else. If it’s not funny then it’s not funny, likewise for being overly offensive or dated, but if the comedy is non-committal than everything else will fall short anyway. With his latest direction, Funny People, Judd Apatow exercises this notion possibly to a fault. The director throws everything he’s got into his third feature film, an exercise made more strenuous by the looming uncertainty of what this film is…Comedy? Drama? Both? Neither? B-Movie Sex Horror? No…no, it’s not that.
It’s always seemed that my parent’s generation has a tendency to think of Adam Sandler as a comedy buffoon. In the early years he made a name as a high-energy goofball and the loudest guy in the room. Both Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore follow this blueprint with an excess of voices and slapstick and dirty jokes. His newer films feel pretty much the same, just a little older, a little less energy. It works for him, and perhaps because it’s something I grew up with I’ve never had a problem with it. On the other hand, there’s nothing fresh about Adam Sandler’s comedy. As much as you’re laughing, you’re never remarking on its quality, never aware of any polish. And while there certainly are notable titles in Sandler’s comedic filmography, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan is definitively NOT one of them.