Monday, June 10, 2013
Riske Business: This is the End...or is it The Beginning?
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.
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.
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
5. Knocked Up
6. Grandma’s Boy
8. I Love You Man
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?