Total Recall

Best-Reviewed Movies Produced by Judd Apatow

In this week's Total Recall, we look at the most critically acclaimed films that the comedy heavyweight has produced.

by | June 1, 2016 | Comments

Judd Apatow isn’t just a producer, of course; he’s also a director and writer, and many of his movies find him occupying all three chairs. Still, it’s his list of production credits that runs longest – and may contain a few surprises for those who haven’t been following his career closely – so we thought this weekend’s Apatow-produced Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping would be the perfect time to give them the Total Recall treatment. We did get a little technical, and cut out the films where he served as an executive producer (bye bye, Heavyweights, Celtic Pride, Kicking and Screaming, and The TV Set) as well as associate producer (thus excising 1992’s Crossing the Bridge), and popular favorites like Anchorman, Pineapple Express, and Step Brothers didn’t make the cut. Don’t worry, though – that still leaves us plenty to discuss. Ready to get started? It’s Total Recall time!

Get Him to the Greek (2010) 73%

Before he launched a second career as an agitator for social justice and economic equality, Russell Brand was a pretty funny guy — and although his particular shtick definitely wasn’t right for every role, it could be quite effective in the proper context. For example, there’s Brand’s scene-stealing supporting turn in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, in which he played the cheerfully hedonistic rock star that the title character hooks up with after dumping poor Jason Segel — a role he reprised a couple years later for Get Him to the Greek. Here, Brand’s Aldous Snow must be shepherded to a crucial gig through a landmine of bad decisions and irresponsible behavior, with responsibility for his whereabouts falling to an increasingly overmatched label rep (Jonah Hill). “The movie’s a good, rude commercial comedy,” argued the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips. “How many good movies have we even seen this year?”

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Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) 74%

Judd Apatow productions are known for their skillful use of humor that feels real — sometimes squirm-inducingly — so the news that he was co-writing and producing a mock biopic of a legendary musician named Dewey Cox (and that Cox would be played by the mercilessly funny John C. Reilly) was greeted with enthusiasm by critics and fans hungry for more 40-Year-Old Virgin-style laughs. Ultimately, expectations for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story proved slightly unreasonable; although critics applauded the film, moviegoers chose not to follow Apatow down this particular path, and it failed to recoup its budget. Still, despite being one of Apatow’s rare commercial misfires, Walk Hard is one of the better-reviewed entries on his resume, and boasts the approval of no less a critical luminary than Roger Ebert, who applauded its restraint when he wrote, “instead of sending everything over the top at high energy, like Top Secret or Airplane!, they allow Reilly to more or less actually play the character, so that, against all expectations, some scenes actually approach real sentiment.”

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Pee-wee's Big Holiday (2016) 80%

Pee-Wee Herman entered the 1990s as a fairly tired joke (and an unwillingly dirty one at that), but given enough time and nostalgia, almost everything old is new again. Herman’s creator, Paul Reubens, discovered as much after exhuming the character for a series of public appearances that led into a revival of his stage show — and a lengthy development process for a third Pee-Wee movie. Reubens ultimately hooked up with Apatow to produce Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, a 2016 release that bowed on Netflix alongside its theatrical run. While the movie’s rollout might have been cutting edge, the story — and Pee-Wee himself — remained substantially the same as his heyday, adding up to a film offering a high-grade flashback to a franchise many critics remembered so fondly they were willing to let its narrative deficiencies slide. As the San Francisco Chronicle’s David Wiegand put it, “After all these years — his and ours — Pee-wee Herman is still a Peter Pan who can lead us back to innocence with a corny joke or a childish jape.”

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Begin Again (2013) 83%

Judd Apatow isn’t the first person you’d think of to produce a movie from the guy who gave us the tenderly mournful indie drama Once, but that’s just what we got with 2014’s Begin Again — and it was pretty darn good, too. Admittedly, the movie offered something of a slicker spin on Once‘s story of two damaged souls connecting through music, but while there were similarities between the two films, they weren’t overwhelming. And as he had with his previous outing, Carney showed a tremendous flair for following the tentative, skipping beat of a developing relationship — not to mention a knack for assembling a fine cast (led here by Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, and Adam Levine) and a soundtrack worthy of repeat listens. “Carney deserves great credit for the movie’s clever, layered structure, and for resisting a few obvious plot turns along the way,” wrote Moira MacDonald for the Seattle Times. “Lightning doesn’t strike, but sunshine works, too.”

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Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) 83%

As the title of his latest feature suggests, Judd Apatow knows funny people — and he has a knack for working with his comedic leads at exactly the right time. After helping Steve Carell and Seth Rogen cross over to superstardom, Apatow added his magic producer’s touch to Jason Segel’s breakout feature, 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which deftly combined the elements we’ve come to expect from Apatow-branded comedies (painfully real humor, uncomfortable nudity) with utterly unique ingredients (singing vampire puppets). The results proved, once again, that if they’re assembled properly, movies that skirt the rim of lowbrow humor can squeeze a couple of hours’ worth of laughs out of even the most highfalutin critics. In his review, the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern echoed Sarah Marshall‘s many accolades when he wrote, “Halfway through I realized that I’d lost most of my standards, maybe under my seat, and was enjoying the erratic evolution of the nonsense.”

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The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) 85%

Judd Apatow seemed to come out of nowhere with 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, his directorial debut — but the reality, of course, is that his ascension was far more gradual; he landed his first associate producers’ credit with 1992’s Crossing the Bridge, and his name surfaced throughout the 1990s and early aughts in connection with projects both well-received (The Larry Sanders Show, Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared) and, well, not (Celtic Pride, The Cable Guy). But Apatow’s signature brand of comedy didn’t really reach full bloom until Virgin — and its awkward pauses, creative profanity (“Kelly Clarkson!”), and off-the-wall pop culture gags (Asia! Michael McDonald!) arrived at the perfect moment for a moviegoing public starved for smart adult humor. The result left Steve Carell with a new level of fame, made Judd Apatow a household name, and helped resurrect the R-rated comedy. It didn’t do too badly with critics, either; Bill Muller of the Arizona Republic was solidly in line with the sentiments of his peers when he wrote that Virgin was “a nostalgic, sentimental and wholly bawdy comedy that will make you laugh until your sides hurt.”

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Trainwreck (2015) 84%

Apatow has proven himself a reliable incubator for young comics over the years, and although he can’t take credit for the rise of Amy Schumer, there’s no denying the sharp eye for talent he again displayed when he hitched his wagon to her star for the 2015 hit Trainwreck. Directing from a script written by Schumer, Apatow once again helped assemble a picture offering a distaff twist on the boundary-pushing comedy he’d turned into big business a decade before — and although the story was basically just a gender reversal on the same old story about a lovable lout who finds happiness by growing up and embracing commitment, the end result was charming and well-written enough for the vast majority of critics to forgive the familiarity. In fact, argued the New York Post’s Sara Stewart, “Trainwreck is a corrective to a lot of outdated clichés. It’s very funny and sweet and even a little weepy, and it has maybe the best scene ever filmed of dirty talk gone wrong.”

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Superbad (2007) 87%

Having been a staunch supporter of Seth Rogen’s from their days together on the set of Freaks and Geeks, Apatow was already well acquainted with Rogen’s comedic talents even before they teamed up to make a ton of box office cash with Knocked Up — which doubtless had a lot to do with why Apatow was interested in producing Superbad, a high school loss-of-virginity flick in the grand tradition of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and American Pie. Superbad‘s premise, which teamed Jonah Hill and Michael Cera with newcomer Christopher Mintz-Plasse on a quest to secure booze for a house party, may have been embarrassingly familiar, but Rogen and his writing partner, Evan Goldberg, nonetheless managed to squeeze fresh laughs (and plenty of ticket receipts) from it — not to mention kudos from critics like the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle, who wrote, “for pure laughs, for the experience of just sitting in a chair and breaking up every minute or so, Superbad is 2007’s most successful comedy.”

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Knocked Up (2007) 89%

Schlubby dudes that inexplicably manage to score with babes have been a comedy staple for decades, on screens both small (Newhart, According to Jim) and silver (everything Woody Allen has ever done). Into that rich tradition stepped 2007’s Knocked Up, Apatow’s wildly successful directorial follow-up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which paired rumpled slacker Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) with gorgeous E! Network employee Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) for a look at what can happen when you head to a club, have a few too many drinks, and don’t give a lot of thought to who comes home with you. (This is Hollywood, of course, so what ends up happening is everlasting love, but not before a lot of funnier, more unpleasant consequences.) An enormous box office success, Knocked Up kickstarted Rogen’s career, cemented Apatow’s standing as a purveyor of fine adult comedies, and earned the adoration of critics such as Stephanie Zacharek of Salon, who called it “Hilarious from moment to moment, but leaving behind both a warm glow and a sting. This is a picture that refuses to fetishize either the ability to conceive or the significance of our place in the universe once we’ve done so.”

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Bridesmaids (2011) 90%

Apatow made a name for himself with crass humor largely brought to life by man-child protagonists, but the bros took a back seat for 2011’s Bridesmaids, in which director Paul Feig corralled a crew of hilarious ladies — including Maya Rudolph, Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ellie Kemper, and Kristen Wiig (who co-wrote the script with Annie Mumolo) — to depict their bawdy misadventures during the days leading up to a wedding. After helping make the box office safe for R-rated comedy, Apatow helped prove audiences were just as willing to turn out for grown-up laughs of the female-driven variety — and nearly $300 million in receipts later, the end result looked like the beginning of a paradigm shift in Hollywood. “It’s not a movie for people looking for a decorous night at the movies,” admitted the Newark Star-Ledger’s Stephen Whitty. “It is a film, though, for folks eager for some good dirty jokes, some refreshingly real female characters – and, just maybe, a new comic voice.”

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