Knocked Up versus Superbad

I met Judd Apatow in 1997. I’d just written a script that he liked and ultimately helped me set up. The studio didn’t meet his terms as a producer, so he ended up backing out of the deal, but he didn’t do anything to screw it up for me. He was a class act.

At one point, he gently broached the subject of working on the script together, which I wasn’t really into at the time. I was making my living writing for television, which was already way too collaborative for my taste. Judd was the opposite, he was wildly collaborative–he seemed to feed off of other people’s creative energy. There was a ping pong table in his office. We never played.

What if I had? Would I be part of the incestuous band of comedy players churning out raunchy movies with heart that are called Judd Apatow movies no matter who made them? Would I be in the privileged position of a Seth Rogen or a Paul Rudd–close enough to Judd to be involved in all his projects, but not so close as to tell him he could cut forty minutes from Knocked Up, that it would come right out, he wouldn’t even miss it?

Superbad is part of an evolution of Judd mentoring other people’s work, starting with Paul Feig and Freaks and Geeks and continuing with me if I hadn’t been in such a fucking hurry to get home. Knocked Up represents an effort to get in touch with his own point of view. Let’s go to the scorecard.

Superbad made me laugh more, and I think a lot of that is because the supporting players are funnier. Seth Rogen is great as a lead in Knocked Up. He’s even better in a smaller role in Superbad as part of an unbelievably surprising team of cops. David Krumholtz has a creepy cameo. And Christoper Mintz-Plasse is pure pleasure. Knocked Up has Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in supporting roles, both fine actors who seem like they should be playing leads, it’s a little sad that they’re not. But that doesn’t make them hilarious comic sidekicks.

In Knocked Up, the arguments between the main characters were irrational, never resolved, and then people apologized for no reason. In Superbad, the conflict is clear and poignant. It owes a debt to American Graffiti, a movie I like a lot. The fights are a bit repetitive but at least they’re about something.

In Superbad, people are suddenly hit by fists, cars, or things about six too many times. You can’t go back to the well that many times, you just can’t, anyone on the picket line will tell you. And there’s a horrible sequence about “period pants.” But Knocked Up has Katherine Heigl, who I saw recently on Grey’s Anatomy as I was changing channels and is currently in ads for 27 dresses all over the place. I can now confirm I hate her. Advantage: Superbad.

In Knocked Up, we’re supposed to think it’s funny when she thinks he’s having an affair and it turns out to be a fantasy baseball draft. What could be less like an affair than a fantasy draft, I suppose the thinking went. Here’s my thinking: you need twelve hours to get through two leagues, and even then you have to get lucky. There’s nothing funny about an interruption. That’s more about fantasy baseball, but it’s been bugging me.

But maybe Superbad benefits most from the ages of the characters. They’re supposed to be acting like idiots. The people in Knocked Up, it’s just a little more gross. And there’s a sameness to the ensemble. Maybe it’s because of Judd’s famous loyalty to his troop, but there’s no room for someone who doesn’t smoke pot from a beer can in a humorous way, there’s no place for real difference, no voice of dissent. Maybe Judd needs someone a little more sour in his own life, the sort of person who doesn’t want to hang out, someone willing to speak the truths that Martin Starr can not and will not speak.

What I’m trying to say is I’m bored and I’m available for ping pong. It’s your serve, Judd.

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