Judd Apatow’s movies are helping me grow up

Chad White
Likes: Judd Apatow productions
Dislikes: Growing up
Hates: The end of the movie

Back in 2010, I managed to get my hands on a DVD of the guy who did Knocked Up and Superbad's next movie. "Funny People" released on an unsuspecting world perhaps too soon. Adam Sandler was just starting his rut of terrible family movies that happen to be made with his friends and Seth Rogen was still riding fame from his appearances in the aforementioned Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin. Both movies did admirably, leaving an impressive dent in the comedy movie world. "Funny People" came and went, in my eyes, as other movies took top priority over some two and a half hour borefest starring the guy who made Little Nicky. I was -- read still am -- pretty dumb in my younger years. I mean seriously, look at the line up for that year: Avatar, one of those Harry Potters, Up, some type of Transformer, Ice Age 3, and the first Sherlock Holmes and Hangover movies. 2009 was a killer year to 15 year old Chad. There was no reason for me to want to weep with Apatow's latest mid-life marathon. Now, I yearn for this type of movie.

Recently I've gotten interested in the process of life itself. It sounds really dumb, sure, but I think being into this kind of stuff is important now. With no job and plenty of time to write -- actually, saying I'm writing when I'm really playing video games or catching upon on all my missed shows -- I've got loads of time to think. How can I get a job in the entertainment industry? Why won't anyone hire me? When am I going to get a girlfriend? How come I don't feel comfortable in my own skin? These and many more existential questions plague me daily as they should you. What does our life amount to other than collecting more stuff and ignoring everyone else?

Judd Apatow and his movies are doing more than taking up my time; they're giving me more advice than I've ever accumulated. I'm not saying I get all of my life lessons from tv and movies but I'm not not learning from them. Apatow is a special case wherein I want to understand him more as a director and writer along with human being. Apatow's movies have had the same impact on me as much as, say, the average young comedian says Louis C.K. is their idol.

Take what I call the Apatow Trilogy for instance. Starting with Superbad followed by The 40 Year Old Virgin and ending with Knocked Up, the trilogy consits of several walks of life. Superbad follows to cool kid wannabes who aim to fit in. Moreover, the two just want to get laid. Michael Cera's character goes through hell and back just to get a girl some frilly vodka. We've all been in that position trying to impress someone. "The 40 Year Old Virgin" is what would happen if one of those guys grew up and never made it with a lady. They'd be uneducated on the human anatomy and kind of a loser. Then, once sex becomes the norm, they would slither into dark days and sleep with everyone possible. That's where "Knocked Up" comes in. But these three films have taught me more than sex; more than a woman's breast does not in fact feel like a sandbag. They gave me insight on how comedians work and think. Before my DVD collection was amassed, some of the first sets of movies I bought were these three. Actually, I had Superbad way before many of my favorite films. Repeat viewings and diving into the DVD extras showed me how fascinating the world of comedy can be. Once, I moved onto the latter two films, I had grown an affinity towards the way Apatow produced. Now, these movies have nothing to do with each other in terms of time periods (Virgin came out in 2005. Way before the other two which came out in the same year in 2007).

Soon, I'd watch Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Walk Hard, Drillbit Taylor, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, You Don't Mess with Zohan, Step Brothers, Pineapple Express, and Year One all to see what the multitalented producer can do. Some were better than others and hindsight has afforded me with great appreciation for jokes I didn't get during the first go-around. However, once Funny People released, I'd grown tired of Apatow's antics. I don't know why. I can't explain my feelings at the time. Kids will be kids of course. The following years saw me still bored with Apatow's movies. Bridesmaids almost won me back over to his side but Wanderlust, This Is 40, and The Five Year Engagement fell by my wayside. I didn't get it anymore. Rather, I don't think I got it at all. Then, just this last summer, Apatow produced Amy Schumer's film debut Trainwreck. I immediately fell in love with it. Yeah the movie has its problems but on the whole I truly enjoyed it.

Weeks passed and suddenly I find myself buying several of the Apatow movies I didn't like. I'd heard comedian Pete Holmes on his podcast reference Wanderlust and Funny People several times over a few episodes. I watched Wanderlust again finding jokes I'd missed the first time because I didn't know drug lingo or hippy stuff. Then, while watching Funny People, I found myself loving Adam Sandler all over again. Where the heck did that come from? Why was I suddenly into the Sandler back catalog? It came from a newfound life characteristic I'd been working on. When I was younger, I'd hate someone or something just because I didn't "get it." You've done it too. We've all harbored unbridled, under explained hate for no apparent reason. People hate Justine Beiber and Kim Kardashian. You can say it's because their rich or because they don't deserve to be famous but, in reality, it has nothing to do with you at all. There's no reason to hate something you don't know or grasp. Beiber might be a really nice guy or Kim could actually want to learn more about your cupcake business. What I'm getting at is life is too short to despise someone or something because you have trouble being open minded. There are bigger fish to fry! Why are we here? Are there more Earths? When is a library book considered late? None of these questions may ever be answered.

I digress.

Holmes understandings and takeaways from the movies he referenced helped me continue to understand Apatow's process in filmmaking and life in general. Holmes even had Apatow on for an episode in which the two discussed comedy, Cosby and life itself. He talks about This Is 40 and becoming an adult. He talks about sexism and feminism. There are so many injustices in the world. Apatow isn't aiming to change everything. He just wants to urge communication and understanding. Much like Will from The Newsroom he's "on a mission to civilize" even if he's not saying it out loud. Apatow is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time because he's educated and seeks out answers or he shows his solutions for whatever is ailing him in life. He's not saying these are right, he's just informing us of what he found that works.

Funny People had Adam Sandler portray a lonely comedian (an oxymoron if I've ever seen one) who finds out he's dying of cancer. He tries to better himself by donating to charity, helping out a young standup and apologizing for his wrongdoings. What's important though is he's unable to learn from his mistakes. Even until the last fifteen minutes of the movie, Sandler struggles with what's right. There are laughs to be had but, for all intents and purposes, Funny People is sad. It depicts the life of a real comedian. There may be sex and alcohol but signs of a truly lonely life are prevalent in its world. Almost every type of comic is shown: loud and gimmicky (a la Aziz Ansari's Raaaaaaaandy); sitcom actor (Jason Schwartzman's 'Yo Teach!' character); monotone one liner (Aubrey Plaza); dick specialist (Seth Rogen) and many more. As with real life comics, these people found their voices and made them work. Sandler's character is the end product. A long life of comedy led him to his sad, depressing life. When people see him on the street, they ask to take pictures or scream their opinion on his films. As someone who wants to be a comedian and entertainer, this seems jarring and unpleasant. But it's what comes with the life. Later on in the movie, the press even follows Sandler to his doctor -- a move that seems all too personal.

But it's not the fame I'm obsessed with; it's Sandler's apologetic journey that intrigues me. He donates money, sure, but it's what he does right after he finds out the bad news. As soon as he is told he has cancer, he goes to do standup. He can't stand to be alone so he goes to the one place he feels comfortable. Comics who started out in the field do standup all the time. Very few of them let the practice drop off nowadays. The stage is a safe haven for new jokes and classic material. Sandler returns to an area in which he finds comfortable even if, especially in that moment, he's uncomfortable himself. His set was crap but the people still love him. To some extent, this safe space can be attributed to Leslie Mann's character. The two broke off an engagement twelve years prior, leaving them both emotionally scarred. Sandler's wrongdoings against Mann and subsequent apologetic nature led to a mutual but tense friendship. With Death knocking at his luxurious French doors, Sandler immediately called Mann saying he was sorry for how things went down. But, alas, she chooses to remain with her husband -- at the last second no less -- for the reason that she has already started a family with him even though she really comes off as in love with Sandler. Funny People places Sandler in these awkwardly sweet situations often to teach him a lesson. What lessons should he learn? It's for him to decide.

Funny People is one of Apatow's most engaging movies and that's not because of its two and a half hour run time. Life allots so much to us -- to Sandler's character especially -- and we often take it all for granted. What makes Apatow's movies special is the life based antics his characters find themselves in. Whats more, they're kept grounded with the amount of detail established in their world. Their lives are no different than yours or mine. This Is 40 had Paul Rudd going through a midlife crisis while Knocked Up had Seth Rogen having to become an adult well after actually becoming an adult. The Five Year Engagement saw Jason Segal and Emily Blunt coming into themselves as a whole as The 40 Year Old Virgin had Steve Carrell coming into himself sexually. There's much more to Wanderlust, Step Brothers, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Each movie is about growing up or turning from a man baby into a man-man or dealing with emotions you've never felt before. Apatow and his friends haven't figured everything out but they're willing to pass along what they find helps.