Monday, June 10, 2013

Riske Business: This is the End...or is it The Beginning?

This is the End is a movie I’m anticipating more than this week’s other new release, Man of Steel. I want to see them both, but This is the End is more important to the future of movies.
This is the End is a culmination of sorts for the Apatow factory of actors and the end of this group’s prime years -- the time when they were the “it” guys and defined much of what we consider modern movie comedy. In addition to what’s next for these actors, I’d like to talk briefly about where movie comedy might go next and how television is blazing the trail for the next trends in movies.
The more I think of it, This is the End is a really significant title. It’s an apocalypse movie for starters, but it’s also maybe the last movie where actors such as James Franco (age 35), Jonah Hill (29), Seth Rogen (31), Jay Baruchel (31), Danny McBride (36), Craig Robinson (41), Michael Cera (25) and Jason Segel (33) can get away with being the stoner/man-child, which is sort of how they staked their claims on modern comedy. The movie’s conceit is to poke fun at all of these guys’ careers -- celebrating what we like about them and tearing them down for their shortcomings and self-indulgence. It makes me curious because if the point of tearing down is to build back up, I’d argue some of these guys will succeed and some will not (some have been savvy and begun already to stretch). At the very least, it looks as if they are all self-aware. Knowing is half the battle. But let’s back up for a minute.

I have a weird but special identification with this group of actors. Many are around my age, many are also Jewish and were the guys I looked up to as comedians when I first started to perform comedy in Chicago at Second City and iO (formerly Improv Olympic). My peers and I treated a new movie from Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen or Jason Segel as event movies. A seminal scene for me is the bar scene in Knocked Up, where they have a conversation about how kick ass Munich is. Just as Seth Rogen’s character states he loves Munich because it shows fellow Jews kicking ass and taking names, that’s how I felt about what these guys were doing to comedy. They were the kind of Jewish guys I could identify with -- they weren’t the "North Shore" snobby/out of touch Jewish guys (which I can accuse Apatow of becoming), but rather were unsure of themselves, not wealthy, goofy, witty self-deprecating, good-natured and informed by pop culture. That scene was the one where I felt like young Jewish comedy was staking its claim, putting its flag in the dirt and saying "This will be a movement." And so it was.
James Franco is unique to the group. He’s the Johnny Depp -- an idiosyncratic artist plagued (?) with leading-man looks. He started as the cool guy, but it’s become apparent that he’s the weird one and this is what will sustain his career well into his old age. He’ll try anything, and as proven in Pineapple Express or (especially) Spring Breakers, he's going to hit an occasional home run and remind us why we like him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes the Gen Y Christopher Walken.

Jonah Hill (who is just as much a progeny of Seth Rogen as he is Apatow’s) will stay relevant for a while, but I think he’s fated to be a supporting or character actor. He will fade into the background. To Hill’s credit, he is expanding into dramatic parts such as in Moneyball or the next Scorsese movie The Wolf of Wall Street, but he’s not likeable or interesting enough to be vaulted to leading dramatic actor status.

Seth Rogen, on the other hand, does have those qualities. If I had to declare a winner for who is the best of this group, it is Rogen hands down. I wouldn’t be surprised if he became the next Tom Hanks.  Sound far-fetched? It’s not if you think about it. He started in Freaks and Geeks and The 40-Year Old Virgin as sort of an angry brute, softened up as a doofus stoner in Knocked Up and 50/50, showed a dark side in Observe and Report and The Green Hornet, genre bended into action with Pineapple Express and gear-shifted down to play normal or uptight guys in Take this Waltz and The Guilt Trip (both underrated movies). The key is that he seems natural and not out of place in any of them. If you think of the movies that Hanks did in his bridge between his Comedy and Drama days – namely Big, Punchline, Joe Versus the Volcano etc. – is it that much of a stretch to think of Rogen in those parts?

The guys who will have a tougher time continuing on are the ones that are more one-dimensional. Jason Segel, as much as I like him, seems to be on a Vince Vaughn trajectory. He's getting pigeonholed as the "relationship movie" guy.  Just like Vince Vaughn is becoming the definitive guy -- THE Break Up, THE Dilemma, THE Internship -- Jason Segel is burned into my psyche as the actor whose characters are defined by whether he is or is not in a romantic relationship (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Five Year Engagement, How I Met Your Mother, even The Muppets to an extent). I hope he has more I Love You Man or Jeff Who Lives at Home in him or he is going to get typecast, which would be a shame. He’s very funny.
Jay Baruchel is someone I really like because from the first time I saw him (on Undeclared), I thought "How is this guy in ANYTHING, let alone the lead on a network television series?" But I think that’s his charm. He’s really unique, but I’m worried it’s the kind of unique that is not going to translate into his old age. Craig Robinson is pretty one-dimensional, but still funny. He’s never going to pop, but I think he’ll be around. As much as I love Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Superbad, I think we’ve seen everything we will ever see out of Michael Cera. Enjoy it while it lasts. I also don’t see much of a future for Danny McBride, as he seems to think cursing alone is hilarious (seriously-- for every joke he lands, there are 20 that don’t). He’s lucky to be around as long as he has.

So if this is the end for their style of stoner, man-child comedy, where will the comedy genre in movies go next? Just as Judd Apatow paved the way in television with Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, the next trend will come out of TV. I’d argue the most influential or cult comedies going right now (Community, New Girl, Happy Endings or Louie) have undercurrents of the absurd but still ground themselves in characters that are sympathetic and unafraid to look foolish. If that’s the case, it’s great news. It's good news for movie Drama as well. Think about it: modern movies are heavily influenced by the work of Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams -- TV guys from 10 to 15 years ago. So if we go with the same trajectory, movies will start to take on more characteristics of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Mad Men or Dexter. Should that come to pass, we have a bright future to look forward to –- full of anti-heroes (which makes sense because it would be a reaction to today’s "hero" era), sex and ambiguity. That sounds like the '70s to me. Wouldn’t that be great?

Just for fun, here are my top 10 comedies featuring this roster of actors:

1. The 40 Year-Old Virgin
2. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
3. Juno
4. Superbad
5. Knocked Up
6. Grandma’s Boy
7. Goon
8. I Love You Man
9. Fanboys
10. Get Him to the Greek

Who do you think has the brightest future of the Apatow stable of actors? Which is your favorite? What are your favorite movies of theirs?


  1. I'm quite excited about this movie, as well. It sounds great. think of all those actors, Cera is my favorite. I guess mainly because he reminds me of myself, awkward but funny. That, and I really love Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (which I would place at the very top if I were to make a similar list. Rogen and Hill would be a close second and third.

    1. Because of the way Adam phrased his questions I didn't say so, but even though Cera isn't my favourite dude, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is probably my favourite of all of that roster's work.

    2. Yeah, I guess I don't know about Cera's future. I don't see him branching out TOO much from what we've already been seeing from him. That said, I just have really enjoyed him for what he is. I think he's good at playing a certain kind of character and really enjoyed him in the movies in which he has starred, as well as Arrested Development (although I agree with the assessment that the new episodes are not all on par with those from the series' past).

    3. For future reference:
      Actors of fully Jewish background: -Logan Lerman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk, Julian Morris, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Marla Sokoloff, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Adam Brody, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Gabriel Macht, Halston Sage.

      Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers -Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Emmy Rossum, Jennifer Connelly, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman.

      Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: -Andrew Garfield, Ezra Miller, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Ben Foster, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron.

      Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism -Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

  2. I'm pretty pumped for this too - comes out on my birthday and I've taken the day off so we're going to catch a matinee showing. I'm avoiding reading reviews and just going in with my own gut feeling that this has the potential to be either THE BEST or THE WORST or more realistically, somewhere in the middle. But hoping for THE BEST!

    And totally agree that movies borrowing more from TV is a potentially good thing - it seems not that long ago (I guess when it looked like "Reality" TV was going to take over) that everyone was complaining about how shitty TV was becoming. Now there are too many genuinely good/great shows for me to keep up with them all.

    I'd have to agree with you that James Franco and Seth Rogan have the brightest futures. Fellow Canuck Seth Rogan (actually Jay and Michael are too - can we agree that, per capita, Canada is the funniest country in the world?) is my favourite of the group and I'd go with Knocked Up as my favourite of his (I also probably liked Pineapple Express more than most).

    Until I read that Rolling Stone article F This Movie tweeted last week, I would have considered Jonah Hill one of my favourites, and 21 Jump Street was probably my favourite mainstream comedy last year, but man, what a dick. I don't think he'll ever be what he seems to think he is.

    Looking forward to our thoughts on This is the End!

    1. Happy early birthday Sol!

      That Rolling Stone article was fascinating. I don't think Jonah Hill could have come off worse if he tried.

  3. Cant wait for this movie myself Adam, by all accounts of the early reviews I have read this one is pretty sweet. Also your list is pretty accurate to mine (although Grandma's Boy I would trade that out with Your Highness which I am apparently the only fan of that movie.)

    I am glad that they have put some distance between this movie and The World's End coming out later this summer. While by the trailers it looks like both films are pretty different I think they may have cancelled each other out if they were released too close together. I'll be up at Second City and IO in a couple months to start a run at that can't wait to find your picture and inspiring quote:)

    1. Your Highness, huh? Not judging just curious..what did you like about it?

  4. I've seen it about a month ago. I do get that you talk about Apatow and his rising stars the way I feel about John Hughes and his stars. You're completely investing in them.

    I disagree on your assessment of Jonah Hill. He will probably keep acting and keep with better supporting roles. He probably has a long career ahead. Jason Seigel though after the stuff i've seen him in in, just can't carry a film. He's doomed to supporting and never again co-starring. He's just not capable of it. Seth Rogen could be the next Tom Hanks I see it I believe it its not that out of the realm of belief to be honest. and Michael Cera suffers from Jessie Eisenberg. The to are so interchangeable that neither will be that big because people will always cast 1 or the other and use them as if they can be replaced with each other.

  5. Adam as for the movie Your Highness, I think the thing I liked about it a lot beyond the admittedly juvenile jokes (The Fuckening!) was beyond those jokes the world they were in seemed legit, production design, the cool robotic bird thats straight out of 80's fantasy movies.

    I am an unabashed lover of good parody movies (Naked Gun Trilogy and Airplane, not Disaster movie Epic movie etc.) and I really like it when a parody/homage movie comes out that feels like it could be the real thing if they took out the jokes. It just had a fun energy for me and is definitely one of my guilty pleasures.

  6. Just watched this a few hours ago and thought it was pretty f'ing great. Maybe not THE BEST THING EVER but I was thoroughly entertained and had a lot of laughs. A cameo towards the end was particularly fantastic. I'd recommend it to anyone - definitely a new favourite of mine from this group of funny people.

    1. What up Sol! I saw it last night. I laughed a lot. Didn't love it but whatever.