Judd Apatow Isn't Dead Yet

The Atlantic
Judd Apatow Isn't Dead Yet
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Judd Apatow Isn't Dead Yet

As we noted this morning, the new romantic comedy The Five-Year Engagement, which was produced by comedy impresario Judd Apatow, didn't do well at the ol' box office over the weekend. In fact it did pretty badly, placing a meager fifth in a weekend it should have easily won. So what happened? Is Judd Apatow over???

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Well, no. The movie (which we really liked!) earned $11 million against a $30 million budget (plus likely several more million for marketing) so it's not a huge disaster for Universal, or for Apatow. Yes, it's one of his lowest openings to date and that is perhaps cause for concern, but Apatow's career, both as a producer and a director, has had plenty of misses amid all the hits. Long ago, The Cable Guy was considered a bomb, as were the more recent Apatow-era comedies Walk Hard, Kicking and Screaming, Year One and his poorly received vanity project Funny People. Apatow has known his fair share of disappointments, so we shouldn't single out Five-Year Engagement as a particular and unique blemish on an otherwise spotless résumé.

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Judd Apatow is just a person! Just a guy who produces movies. He's had enough spectacular successes — big broad box office hits like Talladega Nights and Step Brothers, smart sensitive mainstream auteur stuff like Knocked Up and The Forty-Year Old Virgin — that people have branded him some kind of unstoppable force, when in fact he's had nearly as many disappointments as he has victories. It's not incorrect to assume that we're living in a comedy era defined by the Apatow sensibility — rambling, almost New Wave sentiment peeking out from behind profanity — but it is a bit lofty to place him on the pedestal of godhood. And, in a frustrating way, it distracts from the fact that rather than being some money-sucking Hollywood plutocrat, he's actually a guy who's made some pretty great stuff in the last fourteen years or so. I suppose it was inevitable that we would begin to set a seemingly invincible person up for failure, to almost giddily await it. Only, in truth, Apatow has never been invincible, that's already been proven (remember when neither Freaks and Geeks or Undeclared made it past a first season?), so this latest oopsy probably doesn't mean all that much.

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For Apatow, anyway. It's not great news for Jason Segel, nor, sadly, for Emily Blunt. Blunt especially, who, despite such winning turns in basically everything she's made, just has not been able to make good on the promise she made to Hollywood in The Devil Wears Prada. She's not had a breakout hit since her supporting role in that movie, though she's been given plenty of chances, albeit in roles and films of varying quality (what even was The Adjustment Bureau?). Let's hope she finally gains some firmer traction with the upcoming Looper or the Doug Liman/Tom Cruise action flick All You Need Is Kill. (Though, it'd be strange if she found success as an action/thriller actress when she's such an adept comedian.) Segel, who next appears in Apatow's fourth directorial effort This Is 40, a film that already looks like a hard sell, will probably be OK, though he doesn't have much coming down the pipeline. He seems polarizing — some people love his shlubby sadsack nice guy routine, others seem repelled by it — and it's as yet unclear which side will eventually win. Five-Year Engagement appears to be a victory for the naysayers.

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But again, let's not take too much away from this stumble. It's not great news for anybody, but everyone involved has such goodwill aimed at them that these nicks and bruises ought to heal fairly quickly. No eulogies for the Apatow era just yet, guys. Though, come December and the release of midlife crisis film This Is 40, we think it's possible we might be singing a different, more mournful tune.

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