Assessing every film from Apatow's gang, from The 40-Year-Old Virgin to the new Bridesmaids.
One of the knocks against Judd Apatow has always been that — with the exception of his wife, Leslie Mann — his cinematic clubhouse has largely been a rowdy boys' club. That may explain Apatow's involvement as one of the producers of Bridesmaids, the upcoming Kristin Wiig comedy (directed by Freaks & Geeks alum Paul Feig) that's being promoted as the female answer to raunchy bromances like The Hangover. But where does Bridesmaids fall in the overall Apaverse? To find out, we've created a worst-to-best ranking of every film from Apatow Productions.
15. Drillbit Taylor (2008)
Apatow produced this My Bodyguard retread about a bunch of geeks who get continuously and obsessively attacked by a psychotic bully until they eventually hire a homeless con man to protect them — after which they continue getting bullied for another hour or so, until everyone finally learns to fight back and hug. (Or something like that — I started drifting off near the end.) I was going to say this one seemed like a John Hughes cast-off pumped full of curse words, until I checked IMDb and saw the script (credited to curse-word enthusiasts Seth Rogen and Kristofor Brown) was actually based on a story by the late Hughes.
14. Step Brothers (2008)
No movie featuring the lovely and talented likes of John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell can ever be a complete fiasco. But director Adam McKay's goofy, one-joke tale of step-sibling rivalry between a pair of middle-aged slackers may have marked the moment when man-child humor officially jumped the shark.
13. Year One (2009)
While this Mel Brooks-ian Old Testament schtick-fest is generally more tolerable than some of the more grueling stretches of Brooks' like-minded History of the World, Part I, it also lacks anything as memorable as the "Inquisition" or "Jews in Space" sequences from the older film. Still, writer/director Harold Ramis knows his way around a sight gag, there are some amusing cameos from David Cross and Paul Rudd (as Cain and Abel), and Michael Cera and Jack Black make a likably mismatched team (assuming you're not the sort who can barely stand the sight of one or both of them).
12. Get Him to the Greek (2010)
After watching an ad for Arthur recently, my wife channeled her inner mean girl to snip, "Hollywood, stop trying to make Russell Brand happen! He looks like a pubic hair!" Later, she admitted she thought the British imp could be funny, but mainly when used as a spice (see: Forgetting Sarah Marshall) rather than as the main course. My Brand tolerance is slightly higher (especially when he's paired with the likes of Jonah Hill, Elisabeth Moss, and the underrated comedian Sean "Diddy" Combs), but it's hard to call this one anything but uneven.
11. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
The NASCAR subculture is fertile ground for comedy, and while the work of Apatow, McKay, and Ferrell here never quite scales the madcap heights of their previous collaboration, Anchorman, it's not for lack of trying. Ferrell and John C. Reilly have the natural chemistry of an old vaudeville team, yet somehow Sacha Baron Cohen still manages to steal the show, as a gay French Formula One racer married (for extra comic bonus points) to Andy Richter.
10. Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007)
Jake Kasdan, another F&G alum, helmed this meat-and-potatoes farce, parodying music biopics in general (and Walk the Line and Ray in particular). John C. Reilly is reliably charming as the lead, The Office's Jenna Fischer gets to bust out some slinky outfits, and the comedic hit-to-miss ratio is decent, with Apatow regulars popping up in cameo highlights (including an appearance by Justin Long, Jack Black, Paul Rudd, and Jason Schwartzman as the Beatles, in a scene I could have watched for half the film's running time).
9. Pineapple Express (2008)
Hitting just before Seth Rogen and James Franco saturation set in, this stoner buddy caper scores with the chemistry of its two slacker leads before devolving into a bunch of standard-issue action sequences that were probably more fun to film than to sit through. The film also features a bit more Danny McBride than I typically need in my viewing diet, and while it's nice to see Rosie Perez onscreen again, her underwritten role consists mostly of screeching and scowling.
8. The Cable Guy (1996)
Some of the movies below this one on the list were "funnier" or "more enjoyable," but director Ben Stiller's buddy/stalker comedy gets points for sheer weirdness. The coiled anger beneath the surface of Jim Carrey's comic persona bursts forth in his portrayal of the eponymous service provider intent on befriending Matthew Broderick to death. Not Carrey's best film, but definitely one of the most interesting (and unnerving) performances of his cinematic career.
7. Funny People (2009)
Apatow backlash set in with his third directorial effort, a more personal and dramatic work about Hollywood, ambition… and backlash. Adam Sandler (in his best role since the unfairly reviled Spanglish) plays an arrogant movie star who serves as both role model and cautionary tale for his personal assistant and frequent whipping boy, Seth Rogen. Apatow may have bitten off more than he could chew here, mixing a romantic comedy, a romantic drama, a Sunset Boulevard-esque show-biz psychodrama, and boner jokes; what works best is the satire of Hollywood's comedy-industrial complex.
6. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Sobbing, naked Jason Segel + singing vampire puppets = comedy cold. To be honest, this rebound romance is more charming than laugh-out-loud funny most of the time, but that's fine given its leading man's sweet-natured vulnerability. Besides, heart and soul have always been key parts in the best Apatow material, and speaking of balance, there's just enough Russell Brand (as Sarah Marshall's new rock-star boyfriend) to satisfy even the most discriminating palates.
5. Superbad (2007)
Superbad is uneven, but far more enjoyable than most high-school movies, thanks to the odd troika of Michael Cera, Jonah Hill, and the indispensible Christopher Mintz-Plasse as McLovin. I could do with less of the bad-cop schtick between co-screenwriter Seth Rogen and Bill Hader, but all is forgiven when Hill beeps Cera's nose in a drunken tribute to unabashed friendship.
4. Bridesmaids (2011)
Kristin Wiig is a great sketch-comedy performer and character actress, but I began to worry during the slow first act of this latest Apatow production that she might not be compelling enough to play it straight as a relatable leading lady. Eventually, however, I realized that Wiig’s seeming lack of dynamism was actually a reflection of her character’s deep-seated insecurity and depression, and that Bridesmaids was more Sideways than the Hangover-style romp the marketing had promised. Things pick up once Maya Rudolph’s nervous bride-to-be drafts Wiig as her maid of honor and introduces her to the rest of the titular wedding party (including Rose Byrne as a mean rival and force-of-nature Melissa McCarthy, who runs away with the film like a female Zach Galifianakis). Yet despite several hilarious set pieces, director Paul Feig isn’t really interested in the potential zaniness of the premise. Instead (as with his bittersweet work on Freaks & Geeks), he explores the vein of melancholy beneath the comic desperation of Wiig’s "always a bridesmaid" status, the tensions of female friendship, the hard realities of a shitty economy, and the white-knuckle anxiety of planning the perfect bridal shower.
3. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004)
This comedic jam session captured lightning in a bottle with inspired lunacy from producer Apatow, writer/director Adam McKay, co-writer/star Will Ferrell, and a supergroup supporting cast (including Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, stealing every damn scene he comes near). Simultaneously mocking and celebrating the locker-room camaraderie of a 1970s newsroom, the film occasionally careens off the rails into surrealism with absurdly entertaining bits like the bloody, Pythonesque battle royale between competing TV journalists. San Diego stays classy, and Anchorman remains classic.
2. Knocked Up (2007)
Yes, in the real world, Katherine Heigl's gorgeous entertainment reporter probably wouldn't end up with Seth Rogen's poor, good-natured stoner, even if he did get her pregnant. Yet despite the mismatch (and Heigl's subsequent Heiglness), the co-stars generate a sweet chemistry, supported by some scruffy charm from Apatow's repertory company of wise-ass regulars. From Rogen's psychedelic Vegas road trip with Paul Rudd to memorable cameos from the likes of Craig Robinson, Kristin Wiig, and a somehow not entirely odious Ryan Seacrest, the film is packed with energy and humanity.
1. The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)
In his first at-bat as a feature-film director, Apatow hit a home run with this bromantic comedy about a virginal man being schooled in the ways of love by friends determined to get him laid. Apatow's strength is an egalitarian, kitchen-sink aesthetic that mirrors the impolite messiness of everyday life. Characters spew profanity and riff on pop culture like real people, while seeming to actually inhabit the world of the movie rather than just popping in and out to check off plot points in a formulaic three-act structure. Plus, unlike most rom-com protagonists, Steve Carell's lonely guy gets to find love with a smart woman his own age (Catherine Keener).