To say that critics made Kevin Smith’s career might seem to ascribe too much significance to the whims of a vocal but oft-ignored minority. But to hear Smith tell it, it was New York Times writers Janet Maslin and Dave Kehr whose unreserved praise of his modestly budgeted Clerks (1994) helped put the former convenience-store cashier on Hollywood’s map.
Judd Apatow (you may know him from Knocked Up, Super Bad, The 40 Year Old Virigin) rolled through town last week for a City Arts and Lectures discussion with Dave Eggers and to promote his new humor compilation, I Found This Funny. The book (“an unprecedented mega collection of supremely entertaining writing”) includes works from greats like Conan O’Brien, David Sedaris, Jonathan Frazen, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver and benefits 826 National, the nonprofit writing and tutoring organization helmed by Eggers. I sat down with Apatow at the Ritz in Nob Hill to talk the book, Freaks and Geeks 10 years later and the best TV shows on today.
What a disheartening spectacle we have in Dinner for Schmucks, the latest comedy since April’s Date Night to squander Steve Carell’s impeccable timing and frantic, Clouseau-like cluelessness.
For better and more often worse, we see in Barry, his latest on-screen buffoon, a character reminiscent of Michael Scott, the deluded desk jockey he plays on NBC’s The Office. Nearly paralyzed by his own stupidity, hopelessly oblivious in every aspect of his modest existence, Barry is a tragic figure, in part because of the pain behind his manic grin, and in part because he’s so easy to despise.
Aldous Snow is living the rock ’n’ roll nightmare, stuck on the downside of a career sabotaged by canceled gigs, bubble-brained vanity projects and addiction. He’s blazing a path to the front page of the tabloids, his days and nights a blur of sex and drugs, and it’s not just his music that’s suffering.
Enter Aaron Green, the junior record exec and diehard fan determined to resurrect Snow’s career – and jumpstart his own – by convincing the world’s most decadent rocker to revisit the stage that made him a star, at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Snow, now a laughable self-parody, embraces the plan, but following through is last on his list of priorities.
“Comedy usually is for funny people.” So proclaims George Simmons, the world-famous stand-up and movie star whose premature death sentence – he is diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of leukemia – provides the dramatic thrust for roughly half of Judd Apatow’s maudlin, wildly self-indulgent comedy Funny People.
George (Adam Sandler) is right, of course. As if to prove the point, Apatow has assembled a cast of gifted comic actors, including Sandler, longtime protégé Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Leslie Mann and Eric Bana, the Munich star who rose to prominence in his native Australia with his own sketch-comedy show. The resulting slog, clocking in a nearly two-and-a-half hours, is far less amusing than the sum of their talents.
Lounging in a conference room at San Francisco’s Four Seasons hotel, Lynn Shelton, the 43-year-old director anointed “the female Apatow” by her burgeoning legion of online fans, seems relaxed. She’s naturally handsome without seeming glamorized. She’s welcoming, quick to offer guests a drink from her modestly stacked beverage tray. And, thanks to her Sundance sensation Humpday, she’s finally enjoying a slice of the limelight.
Todd Phillips may never be afforded the same respect as his more venerated peers, if only because directors who spend their careers chronicling the foolishness of badly behaving men rarely do. But it’s hard to ignore his track record.
Save for his remake of Robert Hamer’s 1960 comedy School for Scoundrels, unseen by me but roundly dismissed by others, Phillips has earned justified praise for his affable depictions of testosterone-driven silliness in movies like Road Trip and Old School. The Hangover finds him going to the well once more, with results that are laughably deranged but hardly preposterous to anyone who’s ever lost a weekend in Vegas.
For Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, friends whose acting careers have been entwined since they first worked together in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, life professionally has rarely looked brighter.
Proclaimed two of comedy’s new legends in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, Rudd, 39, and Segel, 29, have shared the screen twice in the past, as supporting players in Knocked Up and more recently as mismatched surfing partners in last year’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which Segel wrote. But never before have they shared top billing, as they do in I Love You, Man, a platonic romance about a pair of incipient bosom buddies.