There has been enough written about Judd Apatow's new comedy Knocked Up in the last few weeks that I no longer feel a need to write a review of the movie. I saw it about six weeks ago and, not to add to the hype, but it's pretty great, very funny, and a better film than The 40-Year-Old Virgin. There may not be one scene as uproariously funny as the chest-waxing scene in Virgin, but you'll laugh more throughout.
Knocked Up is loose, like most of Apatow's work, with probably a good half hour that could have been lost without hurting the story one bit. Of course, those are some of the funniest moments. Apatow also for the first time seems to be able to balance his improv-based working style with a bit of visual flair. I'm pretty sure the camera moved in at least a couple scenes.
Fans of Judd Apatow's previous work will be particularly happy as it features appearances by nearly every castmember of Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared. though you're likely to exclaim, "whoa, is that Bill Haverchuck?" The whole cast is great, but any scene with Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd is pure comedy gold. A set-piece where they go to Vegas and experience Cirque du Soleil as it was meant to be experienced is one of the funniest things I've seen all year. (And the delivery room scene... to quote Steve Carell in Virgin, "Wow. This is graphic.") Even more than his previous film, Knocked Up appeals equally to dudes and ladies -- it's going to be one of the biggest hits of the summer, getting a lot of repeat viewings... heck, I may go to see it again this weekend.
That was more of a review than I intended, but so be it. There has been lots of Apatow-related stuff in the last week, and here's the best of it.
Judd was the cover story on this past Sunday's issue of the NY Times Magazine. It's a great read. The Times Website has some nice supplemental material, including an mp3 of Judd interviewing Jerry Seinfeld for his high school radio station. (Seinfeld mispronounces "Apatow.") There's also a funny video of Apatow and Rogen discussing that giving writer Stephen Rodrick such close access may have been a horrible mistake.
Meanwhile, the AV Club has a great interview with Rogen, who looks to have a very good year with three major films released before 2007's end: Superbad (which he wrote and has a small part in) and The Pineapple Express, an action-comedy he wrote and stars in that is directed by... wait for it... David Gordon Green.
The soundtrack features another Apatow mainstay, his musical hero, Louden Wainwright III -- a brave choice when you figure the studio probably would've preferred it to have Fergie and Maroon 5. There actually is lots of hip hop and modern pop in the movie, but the soundtrack is typical, dark and funny Wainwright. It's more a Wainwright record than a soundtrack, actually, given the title is Strange Weirdos - Music from and Inspired by the Film Knocked Up. In addition to the songs, Louden, who played Steven Karp's divorced dad in Undeclared, has a funny part in the film as one of Katherine Heigl's many obstetricians. If not my normal cup of tea, Strange Weirdos is quite a nice record.
MP3: Louden Wainwright III - Grey in L.A. (Buy it)
And, saving the best for last like the dummy that I am, according to an interview on About.com, Apatow reveals that one of the planned Knocked Up DVD extras will be a "fake documentary about how Seth Rogen was the tenth choice to play the lead. So during our shoot we would have actors come and perform a scene and then I would fire them. We had James Franco do it, Justin Long, David Krumholtz, Allen Covert. I did it. There was a moment where I think I should be the lead as an actor/director. Orlando Bloom did it. It’s really funny." Michael Cera (of Arrested Development and the upcoming Superbad) is also in it, and his scene has hit the internet:
I've got one more bit, which is long, so you'll have to click past the jump for it...
I've actually interviewed Judd Apatow twice, both within a year, for the Undeclared and 40-Year-Old Virgin DVDs. The latter is still up on B&N.com but the first is not, so here it is for your reading pleasure. It's mostly about Undeclared, but Judd's interest in Rogen was already in full effect:
Bill P: Was there any difficulty getting Undeclared on DVD compared to Freaks and Geeks?
Judd Apatow: The same people put out both sets, and Freaks and Geeks was successful enough to say "let's try it again with Undeclared. That's part of the reason why I wanted Freaks and Geeks to do well, to get this one out there. It's just as big a chance as Freaks and Geeks -- a ton of music rights to pay for, less than one full season of episodes, and it never made it to syndication the was Freaks and Geeks did. It's a little more out of peoples memories, even though the ratings for Undeclared were a little higher.
BP: Freaks and Geeks had the '80s nostalgia and drama elements that may have resonated more deeply.
JA: Well, Undeclared was more of a straight-ahead comedy than Freaks and Geeks. I was hoping that would be more organic, since college is a lot more fun than high school. College is the reward for surviving high school. But the situation is just as personal -- a kid going to college hoping he can reinvent himself and trick everyone into thinking he's cooler than he actually might be. When I started Undeclared, I thought it would be a pleasant way to do a show that would be fun and easier to make than Freaks and Geeks. It was a half hour instead of an hour, it'll be just funny and not so heavy, and it won't have to be so personal. And then before you know it, it's funny but also heavy and way more personal than I ever imagined. On Freaks and Geeks I enjoyed writing about Bill and his mom who is dating his gym teacher. There was also the storyline where Neil's dad was cheating on his mom. When the show was canceled, that was left up in the air and we'd wanted to do a lot more with them. We wanted Bill's mom to marry the gym teacher and we wanted Neil's parents to go to divorce court and have a really ugly divorce. So on Undeclared we had Steven's parents separate on the same day he leaves for college -- like they've only been staying together for him. And then his dad would be left -- how do I say this -- as if he didn't even see it coming. So you've got two stories at the same time: a kid trying to figure out who he is and a middle-aged man about to start the second half of his life having just lost his wife and his job. They're both reinventing themselves.
BP: Pain is comedy gold.
JA: The other idea I had before I committed to Undeclared was to do a show about a father and son. It was an experimental idea -- what if you did a half hour show about a kid in college, and then a half hour show right after it about his dad. The same set up, but separate shows. It would be the Judd Apatow Power Hour of comedy and depression. And they would sort of swim through each other's shows.
Q:I would watch them.
JA: You and about ten other people. [laughs]
BP: Louden Wainright as Steven's dad was one of the funniest things in the show.
JA: He is someone who had a huge impact on me as a kid. My parents got divorced -- if you can believe that -- when I was in eighth grade and around that time I started listening to Louden Wainwright. A lot of his songs were about breakups. They were really dark and funny and honest and mean. In some odd way it helped me sort through my emotions at the time. It was almost as if I was hearing my dad complain. [Laughs] Here was a different way to look at life's troubles. You didn't have to deny that things sucked. You could be real about it, and funny. It made me understand that I wasn't the only one going through these things. To me Louden Wainwright was like Bono. We were looking for people to play Steven's dad, and I had seen this documentary about Louden where he said he wished he was an actor instead of a folksinger. "Maybe in another life," he said. He never did it because he didn't like the whole auditioning process. So I took that cue to hire him. Usually with something like this you have to make them perform in front of the network to get the job. I lied to FOX and told them he was on the road and could come in to audition, so they watched a tape. So I saved him from that humiliation and have always been proud of that lie. So I not only had Louden on the show, I made him write songs for it as well.
BP: In the episode with Adam Sandler, Louden performs a hilarious song about his ex-wife -- did he write that?
JA: He did. There's also an alternate -- a country song where he fantasizes about visiting his wife at the morgue -- that we didn't use but put as an extra on the DVD. We also videotaped a couple Louden live shows that are on the DVD as well -- I think that's something that's really exciting on there.
BP: I really enjoyed the deleted scenes -- there's a lot of improvisation going on.
JA: A few things happened on Freaks and Geeks that I tried to take advantage of when we did Undeclared. One was when we casted the show, we were really open to any kid who was interesting. Then Paul (Fieg, co-creator of F&G) would rewrite the pilot script based on what the actors were like. We didn't know we were going to have a James Franco type guy on the show, we just met James Franco and said, "Oh man, we've got to write a part for him." Later, whenever we had trouble with a scene, we would take the kids into my office and make them do improv -- and they would always say something more interesting and unique than what we had written. I like to give the actors a chance really let it fly. On The 40-Year-Old Virgin there was an enormous amount of improvisation where they know where they have to go, but how they get there is up to them as long as it's funny. I just try to hire actors who are funny enough to handle that. And the funniest of all of them is Seth Rogen, who played Ken on Freaks and Geeks and Ron on Undeclared.
BP: There's a deleted scene on the episode where Adam Sandler visits the dorm and Ron is lecturing the other kids on the Do's and Don'ts of how to act around celebrities. Someone off-camera feeds Seth Rogen general topics and he just runs with it. They were all funny.
JA: That's my voice you hear feeding him those. He's one of the funniest guys I've ever come across. I met him when he was 16 years old when he auditioned for Freaks and Geeks. Then I made him a writer on Undeclared because he was just so funny I thought even if this guy was just in the room pitching around with us, he's gonna tell us things we don't know about -- about being young -- and now he's one of the stars of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I made him one of the producers of the movie, which was basically my way of having him on the set every day so he could pitch jokes for everybody. He's one of these rare people who are born with his comedic persona in full-force. I have not even seen him evolve -- he was like this at 16. But getting back to that deleted scene, it's fun to be able to show how that process works.
BP: Wasn't he doing some show with Jack Black for HBO?
JA: It was Seth and Jason Segel, who played Nick the drummer on Freaks and Geeks, but the show didn't get picked up. I wanted Jason for Undeclared but everyone was concerned with me having too many Freaks and Geeks actors on the show. Of course, in the first episode I immediately made him the voice of Lizzie's long-distance, obsessive boyfriend that you heard on the phone. [Laughing] I then put him on the show as much as possible.
BP: The last episode of Undeclared that aired was basically about Jason Segel's character and the other guys he worked with at Kopy Town.
JA: That was basically my fantasy of a different show that I wish I would be able to make -- Jason Segel, David Krumholtz, and Kyle Gass as three guys who work in a copy shop. Jason's character was basically my experience of when I had a girlfriend in high school and we went to colleges on different sides of the country. I was miserable for my first year of college. I tried to put all that insanity into Jason's character.
BP: You didn't make creepy calendars and pillowcases with your picture on them for her, did you?
JA: No, I didn't make creepy calendars, although I maybe I just think I didn't, but actually did. One of the scariest things that ever happened to me was I just went to my 20th high school reunion. The girl I had that long-distance relationship with told me her mom had just found all my letters and was reading them. There is no word for the horror.
BP: Now that you're directing films, do you have any interest in television again with all the trouble you've had in the past?
JA: The thing that I like best about TV is to hire a group of writers and actors to work with and all be in synch on the same idea. The actual making of it is way more fun than movies. It's pure joy. The debates with the networks and the attempt to get ratings and the fights over the small details and the things that end your life, make your hair fall out, and make your chest hair turn gray. It's really really painful. I would like to do a show on cable in the next few years. I think shows like Nip/Tuck, The Sopranos, and Curb Your Enthusiasm are better than any great movie you see these days. Especially Nip/Tuck which I just could not be more amused by in every possible way. The first season I watched it, I was like, "I just can't believe this exists." It's just really funny and campy, and at certain moments you wonder if the makers actually think it's good, or it's campy… I'm not even sure what's happening, but I couldn't love it more. So yeah, I'd love the opportunity to spread my wings like they do. But I had a very good experience making The 40-Year-Old Virgin so hopefully they'll let me make another one.
BP: As far as directing goes, you wrote a piece for Undeclared's website about directing where you said "I have no visual eye."
JA: It's true! I liked that you noticed that. I'm so proud -- I got a rave review of my movie on some internet site and they talked about how I had no visual style at all… and that was a plus for The 40-Year-Old Virgin. [Laughs] They said it was a plus because you could really tell the actors were allowed to really cut loose. I'm always waiting for reviewers to notice that the camera never moves. I just think that the actors having fun is so much more interesting than panning down from a tree to a kid. I try to shoot in a style that is ripped off from movies like The Last Detail that somehow feel really alive, just because the camera is just sitting there capturing things and isn't pointing out what the director thinks at any given moments. It also allows me to cut up the actors better. If an actor walks around the room while giving a speech, and I'm in editing and wishing the speech was half the length, if he's walking around the room I can't shorten it. How did he get from one side of the room to the other? I'm so damn lazy, I'd rather have situations where people are sitting around tables or standing in hallways.
BP: Looking on the Internet Movie Database's entry for the 40-Year-Old Virgin, there is an actress, Jamie Elle Mann, who's character is called "Amazingly Sexy Newswoman. She's only been in two movies -- The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The 24-Year-Old Virgin. Did you hire her for her previous Virgin experience?
JA: That scene didn't make it into the final cut, so there's no story there. We kept wondering what that other movie was too. It will remain a bizarre footnote in history.
BP: Do you have a favorite Undeclared episode?
JA: Yes -- "Eric Visits." It's the one where Lizzie's boyfriend, Eric, comes and visits her at school for the first time, right after she's had sex with Steven. And Steven has to act like nothing's going on, and Eric comes to him for consolation not knowing that Steven is the one Lizzie's been with. I think it's Undeclared at it's best -- really tight and funny. You only have 22 minutes to tell a story, and it's tricky to be able to get the laugh and be emotional in such a short amount of time. That was the hardest thing about the show -- realizing how little time we had. When Paul and I did Freaks and Geeks was to let scenes be too long and let these kids have these moments. With an hour show, we were never rushed. But with a half hour, you had to pick up the pace and be funny. If something wasn't funny on Freaks and Geeks it was the drama part. But on Undeclared if there was something that wasn't funny, it was the part that failed. That was tricky.
BP: Was there anything on the DVDs you wanted to put on but weren't able to?
JA: No. I'm such a pack rat, I saved everything hoping that one day I would be able to present all these other parts of the making of the show. I couldn't be a bigger fan of DVDs and DVD extras. I'm always trying to reinvent how you do them. When we did the DVD for Anchorman, we made a whole second movie out of our deleted scenes and used voice-over from Bill Curtis to have it kinda make sense. It's called, Wake Up, Ron Burgundy and that's a DVDs that I don't think enough people know about. The studio didn't market it at all, but the Anchorman DVD two-pack is one of the great DVDs out there, in my humble opinion. When we did the commentary for that second movie, we were trying to figure out a way to make it more interesting than most of the ones out there. We looked at it like a comedy album and came up with this idea where every ten minutes it would be a new comedy routine. The first ten minutes, Will Ferrel and director Adam McKay act like they don’t know they're being recorded and they're saying horrible things about their wives and the drugs they take. The next ten minutes, they're just trying to figure out how dirty you can be on a commentary track. They are saying the most filthy things you could ever imagine. Then Andy Richter and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D show up and they're pissed off because they didn't get cast in the movie. Then Paul Rudd calls up and yells at them. And then for no reason Lou Rawls shows up and just sits and talks with them for a while. Every time I make a new DVD I try to come up with something unique. It's this incredible format that no one pays attention to at the studio. They're obsessed with the movie, but when you make the DVD they're so happy you're doing extra stuff -- because they don't pay you to do it -- that they don't tell you that anything is wrong. They don't care. It's just the most wonderful, creative place to be these days. If you're willing to do that work, they're happy just to have more stuff to list as extras on the back of the box. I could make the worst thing ever, put it on the DVD as a bonus feature, and they just see it as being able to say there's an hour's worth of extras. So I see it as a chance to make something equally important as the movie. I'm sure one day that will all end, but for now you can basically do whatever you want.
BP: You had to change some of the music on the episodes for the DVD release.
JA: Some, but nothing crucial. I think out of the hundreds of music cues we used, 12 had to be changed. Mainly because some of the artists -- like Coldplay and Outkast -- had become so huge we just couldn't afford to pay their asking price.
BP: There's a fair amount of classic rock for a show about today's college kids.
JA: I think college is where you discover all of your music tastes, so we tried to mix it up. You always think you're cool in college for listening to Bob Marley, you don't realize that everyone's been listening to Bob Marley forever. But for a short period of time, you're the hip guy who "gets it." That's why we have Elvis Costello and other music from the '70s. Then again, it's probably because I'm a lazy ass and would rather put on music that I like than try and figure out who Outkast is. Seth Rogen helped me keep current -- there's a lot of obscure rap and other stuff on there too.
BP: Undeclared was filled with memorable side-characters. Jarrett Grode, who played the smarmy Admissions & Records employee who was prone to rapping, was especially funny.
JA: It's insane how funny he is. Everything he did on that show was from him. I just tapped into what he was really like. He was just one of those guys who came in to audition and was so funny we had to make room for him somewhere on the show. We did that even with the extras. There were these two extras who would work every day -- their nicknames were P.B. and The Samoan. P.B. had this smoky voice like he was a jazz musician and The Samoan was this enormous Samoan guy who wore a football jersey every day. We slowly just started giving them more stuff to do and say. We'd loved giving them lines and making them part of the floor.
BP: final thoughts?
JA: I'm just so happy it's finally out there. I know there is a sea of DVDs coming out. Every show that's ever been on for five minutes is now available, so it's a little harder to get noticed now than even a year ago when we put out Freaks and Geeks. But I think the show is super-funny. A lot of the actors have done really well: Jay Baruchel was in Million Dollar Baby, Charlie Hunman was in Cold Mountain, and Carla Gallo, actually, is in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Tons of comedy stars -- Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell -- make guest appearances. We worked so hard to make the whole package amusing. The commentaries are really unhinged. Everyone is so dirty and so honest and so mean to each other -- in a funny way. Louden Wainright and Fred Willard are really great on the commentaries, and the kids talk about stuff that no one should talk about while tape is rolling. There's a lot more fun there than just the 18 episodes.
BP: The thing that kept being repeated over and over in the commentaries was your love of chicken.
JA: People know that I love chicken. If you're gonna make a show with me, there will be a lot of chicken consumed. California chicken, all sorts of chicken restaurants. Although during Undeclared I stopped eating chicken because I felt guilty about the sheer amount of birds that had died for my pleasure. I became a vegetarian. But then I got bored of eating pizza. I didn't replace the chicken with something healthy -- I just ate pizza. I guess you're not even a vegetarian if you eat cheese. But I'm back on the chicken and they're dying daily for me.