Judd Apatow has worked in film and television for decades at this point, with early work highlighted by TV shows with cult followings like Freaks & Geeks and The Larry Sanders Show. Over the last decade, though, Apatow has become one of Hollywood’s most notable – and bankable – voices. Starting with 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow’s work as a director, writer and producer have dominated Hollywood’s comedy scene. That work continues this weekend with the release of Trainwreck, notably the first film Apatow has directed where he’s not also served as writer. For this edition of Out Ranked, we’re looking at Apatow’s five films where he’s worked as director.
5. This Is 40
It’s hard to escape viewing This Is 40 as being perhaps a bit too close to its creator. After all, he’s cast his own wife and children in three of the four main roles, with Paul Rudd serving as the Apatow stand-in. Apatow still has access to plenty of funny people to pop in for glorified cameos – Melissa McCarthy steals the film with one scene so well, an extended take is included in the closing credits – but the general vibe of this film is, at most, amusing more than hilarious. It meanders from subject to subject, trying to paint some portrait of middle-age crises. And the film’s extended runtime just drags the whole thing out.
4. Funny People
Made in the wake of Knocked Up‘s success, this meandering mess of a film tries for too much by telling stories about a lazy movie star (Adam Sandler), his ex (Leslie Mann), her husband (Eric Bana) and the aspiring comic working as the star’s assistant (Seth Rogen). Still, it’s ambitious in its attempt to fuse together comedy, drama and romance. It also gives Sandler a rare role that requires some level of work, while skewering Sandler’s own perceived laziness as an actor.
3. Knocked Up
The 40-Year-Old Virgin may have been Apatow’s breakthrough, but Knocked Up is the project that made people take Apatow seriously. Even though the film features some of the self-indulgence that has overwhelmed more recent projects, Knocked Up works because it’s got a great premise – man-child (Rogen) has drunken one-night stand with workaholic (Katherine Heigl) and gets her pregnant, then has to grow up. The growing-up may be predictable, but it’s demonstrated in a way that’s surprisingly thoughtful.
As mentioned above, Trainwreck marks Apatow’s first film where he’s not also writing the script. That may be for the best. As it is, Amy Schumer’s script about a commitment-phobic writer (Schumer) who falls for a solid guy (Bill Hader) is one of the best modern examples of a romantic comedy. The humor’s a bit different here, but it’s still stacked with reliable supporting players, from the expected (SNL players Vanessa Bayer, Pete Davidson and Leslie Jones all make appearances) to the brilliant (Tilda Swinton, barely recognizable). Apatow brings a great guiding hand to the film, and ends up producing his most mature work to date.
1. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Sometimes, the first time is the best. Sure, some of the jokes are a bit tired after being used in other Apatow productions, and it fits squarely into the Apatow tradition of men putting off adulthood. But it also has what ended up being a star-making turn from Steve Carell, along with an older romantic lead with surprising depth (and played to perfection by Catherine Keener). And if you haven’t watched the film in a while, you may be surprised by the sheer number of notable supporting players featured here, years before their own breakthroughs.