Okay, quiz time. Thinking about films that have emerged from the Judd Apatow camp, have a guess at the number of years that separate Knocked Up and Superbad? The first being Seth Rogen’s breakthrough as a credible leading man in Hollywood, and the second his breakthrough as a comedic writer alongside screenwriting partner Evan Goldberg.
The answer? Just eleven weeks. In the UK, where I saw both at the cinema, the distance was even shorter – just three weeks.
It feels incredible that two such strong comedies were released within earshot of each other. In my memory they’re separated by a couple of years, time enough to first accept Rogen as a force in Hollywood comedy before welcoming a film written by him.
It’s not hard to see Judd Apatow as this generation’s James L. Brooks. Both are comedy writer/director/producers, starting their career in television and ending up in film. Both have strong comic chops, with their heartwarming brand of comedy treading a fine line between laughs and tears. And both have fostered young and upcoming talent within their ranks.
If anybody has emerged as the shining beacon of light from Team Apatow, it’s the writing partnership of Rogen and Goldberg. Childhood friends in Vancouver, Canada, they co-wrote an early draft of Superbad at the age of 13, before Rogen’s acting career took off as part of the ensemble cast in Apatow’s Freaks & Geeks.
Rogen appeared in a couple of early Apatow film – Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy and The 40-Year-Old Virgin – before he was cast as the lead opposite Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up. Shortly thereafter, the Apatow-produced Superbad cemented Rogen’s position as a major comedy player in Hollywood.
And so we arrive at Pineapple Express. Not a perfect film, by any measure, but still a breath of fresh air after the tentpole comedies that preceded it in the summer of 2008: Adam Sandler in You Don’t Mess With The Zohan, Mike Myers in The Love Guru and Eddie Murphy in Meet Dave.
Rogen and Goldberg’s second writing collaboration finds Rogen acting alongside his Freaks & Geeks cast-mate Dave Franco. Rogen plays to what was swiftly becoming his type: a schlubby loser in a dead-end job with no prospects. He plays a legal process server (“You’ve been served”) who witnesses a murder and enlists the help of his drug dealer (Franco, also playing to type) and another drug contact (Danny McBride), to evade the Mr. Big (Gary Cole) who’s behind it all.
It’s a nice little film, as long as you don’t think too much about it. The supporting cast is great, particularly those who by now were becoming Apatow regulars: Craig Robinson, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Kevin Corrigan and Justin Long. The remarkable thing about the film though is the quality of the cinematography. The film stock has the same graininess as Superbad, making it look like it belongs in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. This hasn’t been lost on Rogen, who said ‘even people who hate the movie admit that it’s shot well.’
I can’t remember why I bought the soundtrack, released on green grass marble double vinyl for 2017’s Record Store Day, but I’m glad I did. Not only does it include stone-cold bangers like Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue (‘BOY!’), Robert Palmer’s Woke Up Laughing, and Bird’s Lament by Moondog & The London Saxophonic, but it also includes a classic-in-the-making theme song by Huey Lewis & The News. The only thing missing is Paper Planes by M.I.A., a highlight of the film trailer, but which didn’t end up in the resulting film.
Hit: Electric Avenue – Eddy Grant
Hidden Gem: Pineapple Express – Huey Lewis & The News