Judd Apatow has been crowned Hollywood's "King of Comedy." Nobody else in the business has been honored with that headline more often. But the writer-director-producer of such blockbusters as "Knocked Up" and "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" doesn't actually set out to make "comedies," per se.
"I try to write stories and inject them with humor. I don't find any of them comedic premises. I just find life funny and absurd. Everything makes me laugh," Apatow said in an interview with The Washington Examiner. He doesn't feel the need to write big, broad farces with over-the-top characters. "People are strange," he said. "That's why I don't have anyone attempt to murder anyone in my movies, or even cheating. Because all the mundane details of life are funny enough."
Everyone recognizes how funny Apatow's movies are, but less obvious at first glance is how every one, no matter the subject, is infused with his take on the human condition. People do hilarious, awful, even disgusting things to each other in his movies. But the films tend to end happily, even heartwarmingly. Apatow readily admits to being "an optimist." Luckily, it doesn't keep him from also being a realist.
Both traits are on ample display in his latest movie, "This Is 40," which opens in theaters on Friday. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann revisit the characters they played in "Knocked Up," a slightly mismatched couple who feels the good life might be passing them by.
"I wanted to do a movie about this time of life when you are assessing how well you're doing," he said. At that stage in life, everyone is "trying to be a good parent, a good husband; they're all trying to stay healthy, deal with technology. It is too much. I find all my friends are drowning in their attempts to be perfect in all these categories. I thought it'd be fun to do a movie about a midlife meltdown."
With his wife in a starring role and their children portraying her children in the film, it's hard not to ask if "This Is 40" is at all autobiographical. This is the first question at which Apatow stammers a bit before answering. "The movie isn't a true story in any sense, but it's emotionally accurate," he finally said. "What's fun about the movie is it's like people at their worst. It's not fun to watch mature people act normally and handle things in a healthy way."
That's a good summation of Apatow's brand of R-rated comedy, but his work also offers a rare realism. In "This Is 40," the fights between husband and wife eschew the cliches we normally see on screen.
Given the authenticity in "This Is 40," one wonders why the man who wrote and directed it didn't take the role of the husband himself. "I'm a bad actor. I'm awkward, and I'm a ham. I'm a confidently awful actor," Apatow responds immediately. "I'm a much more unpleasant person than Paul Rudd. He has charisma, he's handsome, he doesn't have any back hair. He's a better version of me than me."