Ten years is a long time, especially when it comes to cinema. In particular, comedy in the movies is something that rarely holds up over a significant period of time. Will Ferrell has gone from being the tastemaker of comedy to essentially playing second banana to Kevin Hart in Get Hard as of late; Anchorman 2 was a success for Ferrell and the gang but it arrived with a roar and left with a whimper. It made money but no one is going to reference it, quote it or hold it up as one of the best comedies of that year much less hold it up as a similar film in quality to the original.
The best comedy of 2015 so far has been about a talking teddy bear fighting for his civil rights … something that would’ve been unfathomable in 2005.
Judd Apatow, who’s last effort This is 40 could be best described as “rich people problems,” is now facing something one wouldn’t have thought possible after the staggering success of his first two films as a writer/director. With Knocked Up and The Forty Year Old Virgin holding up as two of the best comedies of the first decade of this century, Apatow is in a wild crossroads as a director. This is 40, a pseudo sequel to Knocked Up but without Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen and featuring Apatow using Paul Rudd as a cipher to explore his middle aged angst, was a spectacular dud and Funny People was two wildly different (and good) movies put into one subpar one.
For all his success as a producer to an entire cottage industry of comedy, and a star maker to the last decade of comedy talent, Apatow is sitting in a precarious position as a comedic story-teller. It’s a similar spot as Jason Reitman, who had a similar jump into the mainstream as a film maker in 2005 with Thank You For Smoking, is currently in as well. But for Apatow it’s a little different because after four films as a writer/director he’s hitching his wagon to perhaps the latest successful comedian who hasn’t made the transition into film.
It’s impossible to deny that Amy Schumer is anything less than the “it girl” of comedy right now. That’s kind of insulting in a way because she’s not the sort of comedian socialite that the phrase “it girl” sort of implies. She’s got an insanely successful show and is praised by her peers as one of the best working stand ups in comedy. Throw in one of the best shows on television, apparently, and Schumer is highly respected for being one of the best. Not merely as a female comic, mind you, but as a comic.
That’s about as high a compliment as you can get in any creative field, I think, when your peers don’t attach any qualifiers to a “best of” statement.
Thus it’s not shocking that Apatow wound hitch his wagon to Schumer at this point. Schumer a year ago was a comic on the rise looking for a project that would allow her to move from being a female stand up and basic cable star into starring roles in movies. Her cinematic resume is spotty up until now, with a handful of small throwaway parts, as this is for all intents and purposes her debut. It’s like going from being a special teamer as a rookie to a starter in your second year in the NFL; yeah you’ve had a year in the league but you’re still not quite established, either. She’s not new to a movie set … but she’s not an old hand, either.
Schumer is taking on her first starring role and it’s not shocking that Apatow would go outside of his usual group for the film. Sometimes when your back is against the wall, creatively, you go outside the comfort zone and bring in some new blood. Throw in the fact that she’s on the rise, and has been for some time, and it’s not shocking at all that Apatow would make this sort of film with her. To be fair I figured he’d get Lena Dunham for it, so she could be naked in the movie as well as on HBO, but apparently preventing 13 year old boys from ever wanting to see a woman naked again wasn’t the agenda for 2015.
But what’s interesting is that this isn’t Apatow’s script … its Schumer’s.
That tells you a lot about this film going in, of course, but so far Apatow has only directed films he’s written. He’s also got a fairly substantial resume as a writer, as well, but this isn’t Schumer being the lead and a handful of others getting writing credit. Schumer is the writer, period, and while one imagines that Apatow had a hand in polishing it up for feature film this is first and foremost a Schumer project. The first mention of Apatow is in the final credit of the original trailer; if you are not following film production and projects you could almost miss that this is an Apatow film.
On the one hand it allows him to walk away from the project, if it under performs or flops, because this film is more about her than it is about him. The easy excuse would be that this was marketed as an Amy Schumer project, not a film from the guy who created two films you really loved a while ago, and that audiences not coming out is an indicator that people don’t want to see Schumer on the big screen just yet. It’s the sort of excuse that Kevin Smith made before Cop Out came out, so that people wouldn’t trash him as much as they wound up, because it’s not a “Kevin Smith film” but something he was paid to do. He’s admitting his cinematic prostitution up front, so as to try and minimize the fallout if it failed.
On the other hand if it succeeds, and it looks like it could be the biggest R-rated film of the year, then he gets to be attached to a hit. Hollywood tends to put blame on the micro and success on the macro; Apatow will get some shine because of crafting a good movie and someone will insist (enough to put in a commercial starting week 2 that “Apatow is back” or something along those lines. The focus and shine will go to Schumer, mainly, but they always pick and choose small things to try and appeal to more than just a star about on the rise.
it’s just amusing to see Apatow at this point hitching his wagon, and creative juices, to someone else entirely.
What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound
Ant-Man – Paul Rudd is a thief recruited by Michael Douglas to steal stuff. He also becomes tiny.
See it – I love Paul Rudd but he doesn’t have a substantial track record of massive success, thus it’s worrisome.
Trainwreck – Amy Shumer takes the “Womanizer finds real love” story and just does a gender swap.
See it – As much as it’s probably going to fairly unoriginal, it’s got a great cast and pedigree behind it.
Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .