You may be scratching your head, wondering how a magzine some people know better for their “Women We Love” stories or their “Why Men Shouldn’t Wax Their Chests” stories gets the nod from Kyle Vitasek.
Well, prepare to be suprised…
After reading three articles from esquire over the past two weeks, I can comfortably say they have one of the best, most intuitive and intelligent pop culture journalistic/editorial staffs in the world. Just so that you don’t scratch any hair out of your head the articles were an interview with Jeb Bush, one with Judd Apatow, and a film review of Apatow’s latest “Funny People.”
With a nod to Stephen Marche for his great review and insightful commentary on Apatow, and a genuine recommendation that you read any Esquire articles that show up when you google a pop culture icon, I will move on to offer my own insights about Judd and “Funny People”.
Judd Apatow may just be the herald announcing that post-modern friends who have joined together to seek the transcendent have claimed their place in the mainstream of society. If you want evidence of this, check out his box office draws, or IMDB him. Apatow is the golden boy of Hollywood for the moment. Yet, he couldn’t seem to care less.
Yes, he is enthralled by the fact that he gets to make the stories he wants to. Yes, he is pleased that corporate execs have finally given his work the recognition that it deserves. But mostly, he cares that his wife and daughters have stability, a great dad, and an ever-present cheerleader. Even though he spends a great deal of time working on films, he makes every effort to karate chop the wall that the baby boom generation so effectively placed between “work life” and “home life”. Could he be the new poster-boy for living an integrated, wholistic life? Maybe… he’s made an admirable start.
And have you noticed that while some of the content of his movies is stuff he would never want to hear come out of his daughter’s mouths, some of it is quite insightful and full of moral gravity? Take a deeper look.
“Step Brothers” while outrageously over the top funny at moments, also deals in a very heartfelt, endearing manner with the issues that spin from divorced parents, which many forty year-old men still haven’t worked out. So, does it seem ridiculous at first glance? Yes. Are the dick jokes a bit much at moments. Yes. But does the film cause an entire culture to question why things are the way they are? Yes. Does it ask us what we’re willing to do to remedy the situation, and in fact offer a wild, yet poignant solution? Yes. Apatow challenges us each to re-discover the childlike wonder and ability to take risks that we all long for. There was another cultural icon that did this back in the first century A.D. You can draw your own conclusions about whom I speak.
And now, finally, “Funny People”. Judd’s hit 41, one year older than his 40-year old virgin, and he’s starting to feel the weight of his years a bit. He’s willing to pour on the gravitas a little bit more. He wants to make a mark on the society he holds dear. He’s teamed up again with one of his favorite actors from “Freaks and Geeks,” the much thinner Seth Rogen. Rogen and Apatow have formed, in real life and in their films, a fun sort of 21st century family. And this unfeigned, unfettered intimacy flows freely in “Funny People.” Sandler’s terminal illness causes him to question what he’s done with his life, and why he never pursued the one person he truly loved. He employs Rogen to help him through the final stages, so he doesn’t have to be alone. Apatow takes aim, as he does in “Step Brothers,” at the absolute insanity of the possessions we have accumulated as Americans, and the fact that it doesn’t come anywhere close to giving us happiness. Adam Sandler’s character asks Rogen to help him give all his “stuff” away, so we think he’s turning over a new leaf. As Sandler begins to pursue his one true love from many years back, Rogen slowly realizes that Sandler hasn’t changed at all. He’s more manipulative and selfish than ever. One of the most suprising elements is that the character Apatow normally slates for all-out ridicule gets a subtle nod from the director. The husband of Sandler’s love interest is first portrayed as a successful, macho, totally clueless guy who has no idea how to love his wife. Yet by the end, we see that he cares for his girls admirably well, even at some of the highest points of tension with his wife or Sandler. And, when faced with the option of flying the coop when things got really rough with his wife cheating on him with Sandler, he chose to stay. He chose to tough it out. Apatow, far from being the funny man we give him so much credit for, is turning a corner in his directorial skill-set. His characters (relatively continuous from film to film) are beginning to genuinely grow. They are walking the path to transcendence alongside Apatow.
Apatow the spiritual guide? Maybe. He sure has caught the attention of an entire generation who can’t seem to find the truth about life from their original families, as he so ironically noted with his George W. Bush quote at the beginning of Step Brothers. [Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.] That is an actual quote. Spelling is correct, the way our president said it. And this is why Apatow put it in there. He seems to feel that there is something very spiritually off about a generation who don’t know their fathers, either through physical or emotional absence. He thinks that there is also something off about this culture where our President can’t use proper grammar, or even put together a cohesive sentence about something so important as the family unit. Wings can’t take dream, not even metaphorically. Dreams might be able to take flight.
Unfortunately Apatow seems to have searched and found that the only comfortable philosophy for him is that of nihilism. He is quoted in Marche’s review as saying, “comedy… is a way to point out that nothing makes sense.” And he makes this point very well with the final scene of “Funny People”. As the camera makes a very elegant zoom and track out from Rogen and Sandler, we see a display of champagne conspicously placed in the foreground… and lit well. This is no mistake. Film producers and directors leave nothing to chance. Their works of art are moving images, and therefore everything in that moving image must fit their vision for the world they want to paint. Apatow points out poignantly that for Sandler all there is is comedy. He doesn’t even apologize to Rogen for making him party to breaking up a family. He simply comes to Apatows crummy grocery store work and tells him that he will help him write his jokes… something he previously refused to do, saying something to the effect of “I pay you to write jokes for me. That’s how this works.” While we see that Sandler now wants relationship, which he didn’t before, his character has not grown nearly as much as Rogen’s. Rogen sees a world that consists of serious right and wrong actions, with even more serious implications for either of those. And he wants desperately to be right.
Is Apatow trying to go back and start over? Has a world where “nothing makes sense” other than the fact that it’s all very ironically funny left him wanting more? For sure. And I don’t think he’s given up yet. Pay close attention. I fully expect, if his genuine search for truth continues, to see his work mature and his influence expand over the years.
It would be great to get to work with him someday… minus the dick jokes.
Hope you enjoyed,