Thursday, July 2, 2015

"The Flip"

Writer/director Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids) was recently profiled in the Writers Guild magazine “Written By”.  In the course of the interview, Feig talked about the pilot for a TV show that he co-created with Judd Apatow called Freaks and Geeks, now a cult classic for its honest depiction of the horrors of High School, and the passage of adolescence in general.

Feig explained how, after a “Don’t change a word of this” notes-session meeting with NBC, they returned to their office, where Apatow immediately announced that they would rewrite the script.  Feig went ballistic.  Retrospectively, however, he came to approve of Apatow’s decision, explaining,

“It was a method Apatow learned from Garry Shandling.  Be harder on the material than anyone else.”


And I just sighed. 

I will tell you why later.

If I remember. 

Or maybe by then you will already know why.

Judd Apatow’s “Garry Shandling Learning Experience” derived from Apatow’s participation on The Larry Sanders Show.  I know a little about The Larry Sanders Show, having served for two seasons as a two-day-a-week consultant, a title that later, at my insistence, was elevated to “Consulting Producer” (because if The Larry Sanders Show won an Emmy, I would receive one myself.  It didn’t, so no Emmy for Earlo.  The show did, however, receive a nomination.  Meaning the strategy could have worked, it just didn’t.  Note:  I like to segregate my less admirable behavior in brackets.)

Garry was incessantly fiddling with the script, trying to deepen and enrich the characters and the situations, pushing in the direction of “more emotionally true to life”, leading the way for comedies like Louie, in which the line where comedy crosses over into the existential pain of human existence is provocatively unclear. 

Although I am no expert on Freaks and Geeks, I did once binge-watch a handful of episodes.  In that far from comprehensive sampling, I could readily detect Shandling’s “go-for-the-heart-of-the-matter” example. 

I was tremendously impressed by Freaks and Geeks.  I had once believed that Dobie Gillis was deep.  And it was, for its era.  But Freaks and Geeks set new standards in portraying the unflinching vicissitudes of teenage existence.

(So far, no sighing.  But it’s coming right up.)

But then…

In terms of the Apatow-Feig cinematic oeuvre,

I witnessed a “flip.” 


(There you go.)

Why the sigh?

Because it appears to me at least, that the “Sons of Shandling” have taken things in the opposite direction.

Exhibit A?

Bridesmaids (2011).

A late-thirties woman, life’s on the downswing, finds her last bastion of security threatened because her best friend in the world is about to get married.

This is a truthful, identifiably human and touching premise for a movie. 

How then did it end up with a woman taking a diuretic dump in a sink?

They rewrote the script.  (I am guessing, having never read it, that the “sink dump” scene was not present in the original version.)  This time, however, the rewrite was not in the direction of “deeper and richer.”  It was instead in the direction of “Let’s take a believable situation, and give all the bridesmaids food poisoning!” 

(And the fecal hilarity ensues.)

This is hardly the legacy of Garry Shandling.  Although Shandling whines everything – including “It’s great to seeeeeee you!” – I never once heard him whine, “Let’s make the script fuhhh-nnnnier!

Exhibit B?

SPY (2015).

An overlooked but gifted CIA operative finds vindication and acceptance after being thrust into the life-threatening situation of “going into the field.”

Once again, a perfectly workable concept – A sympathetic fish out of water proves herself, though perhaps unconventionally, to be capable in every regard.  

At the very worst, it’s a Bob Hope movie starring a woman.  (I shall leave it to others to determine if that’s a step forward or something less feministically flag-waving.)

When did that perfectly workable concept become a cavalcade of curse words, punctuated by a woman kicking another woman hard in the crotchal area?  I have no direct evidence in this regard, but I suspect it had something to do with a rewrite.

“Deeper and richer”?

Only if “deeper and richer” involves groping the lead character’s breasts at every available opportunity.  (Which, if it were a conventional movie star’s breasts would be “sexual assault.”)

It appears to me that, whereas in their earlier days, the “Apatow Factory’s” objective concerning the rewrite was to dig doggedly in the direction of finding “The Truth of the Situation”…

Dey don’t do dat anymore.

Which disappoints me as an audience member who happens to enjoy “deeper and richer” in his comedy entertainment. But also because, for some reason, the Apatow/Feig juggernaut’s complete lack of self-awareness – or is it honesty – personally offends me.

If you are determined to make your movie as hilarious as you can, and doing so, you believe, involves a woman hiking up her bridesmaid’s gown and pooping in a sink – followed by a reprise of that behavior in the middle of a busy street – then by all means, be responsive to your comedic Muse.  But do not simultaneously claim that you are following in the trailblazing footsteps of Garry Shandling.

Because, whining on Garry’s behalf,

“That’s wrooooooong!

1 comment:

Canda said...

This is why you, and others like you, are so badly missed. Judd Apatow is the gold standard of comedy, but it's gross, juvenile idiocy. Compare him to Billy Wilder, Neil Simon, Chaplin and others from former eras, and ask yourself are we progressing or regressing?