I am a fan of the ‘Judd Apatow’ movement. I can understand why the movies he’s done (and others in his group have done) don’t necessarily appeal to everyone. Yet, you can’t deny that they have been a big part of films for almost a decade. Apatow rose to cult status with his great (and short lived) shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. Both had a core group of actors that would go on to be featured in many of his other projects. In the same way that Tarantino & Wes Anderson tend to use the same troupe of players for their films, Apatow has used many of the same actors and helped to launch them into the public consciousness. While he’s had many successes as a producer, it will always be his first two mega hits that helped to define him as a director. Yet, which of the two films is better? Are they equal or does one rise above the other?
Apatow’s first feature, The 40 Year Old Virgin came out in 2005 and was a critical hit. It featured a then up and coming Steve Carell. Known for his work on The Daily Show, he had recently wrapped up the first season of the US adaption of The Office. The first time I watched the movie, truth be told, I wasn’t really watching the movie. I had finished my first semester of college and was back home. I had rented it, but was engrossed in Facebook (still pretty new) and talking to my friends about how much we couldn’t wait for semester two. I remembered the waxing scene as well as the “You know how I know you’re gay” scene. It wouldn’t be until the release of Knocked Up that I sat down and watching the movie from beginning to end.
Knocked Up came out in 2007 and, much like what The 40 Year Old Virgin did for Carell’s career, Knocked Up brought Seth Rogen to great popularity. When it came out on DVD, I was working at Blockbuster (insert obligatory joke about what relics video stores are here) and decided to give it a try. I usually stayed away from the really popular “mainstream” films, but I knew there would probably be people asking me just how ‘unrated’ it was. Despite my low expectations, I laughed from beginning to end. I was so surprised at how much I liked it that I rented The 40 Year Old Virgin again. This time, giving it my full attention and being a whole two years older, I found that I loved it as well. After sharing my love of both movies with my sister, they both became the top of my “I need to laugh” list.
Yet, watching them again, I had to wonder: If I could only pick one to watch for the rest of my life, which would it be? Both bring me great joy, but in the end there is one that seems to squeak ahead of the other. Both films, while anchored by solid performances from the male lead comes down to the support cast for me. In The 40 Year Old Virgin, it’s the Rogen/Rudd improvised scenes that make the film sparkle. Also, Jane Lynch steals every scene she is in. However, in Knocked Up, the supporting cast is a little more flushed out and real. There is also two different representatives of the lead characters in the supporting cast: Rogen’s friends and Heigl’s family. In both cases, they always steal the scenes they are in and have some of the best moments in the film. Clearly Apatow agreed considering his newest film, This Is 40, centers around Rudd and Mann’s characters.
The 40 Year Old Virgin is a solid comedy. It has a lot of like-ability thanks to Carell and some of the most hilarious moments in film, yet Knocked Up is my favorite of the two. It took the raunchy, hold no punches attitude of The 40 Year Old Virgin and gave it a more mature feeling. I know that no one would ever describe Knocked Up as mature, but it really is compared to The 40 Year Old Virgin. In fact, watching Apatow’s films, you can see him growing as a director with each film he directs. They all have the same soul as his first, but seem a little bit more adult. In addition, Knocked Up has an excellent soundtrack that features Loudon Wainwright III’s folksy sound.
It is undeniable the effect these two films have had on comedies since they came out. Chances are, if it’s had any sort of success, Apatow’s name has been on it in a Producers capacity. He brought a new form of comedy to us: gross out humor with heart. Some of them have been excellent (Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Superbad) and some have been not so good (Year One and Get Him to the Greek). I feel that the constant barrage of ‘Apatow’ films is slowing down. Hollywood, unfortunately, takes things that are popular and does them to death. Now that they are slowing down, I think the quality of these films will once again go up. This is 40 looks to be a great step in the right direction for Apatow and his disciples.
So, what are your thoughts? Do you have a favorite of the two or do you just hate Apatow’s movies all together?