Saturday, December 15, 2012

Will "This Is 40" Be Able to Add Comedy to the Best Picture Race?

Left to right: Iris and Maude Apatow, Paul Rudd, and Leslie Mann

With the upcoming release of director Judd Apatow's midlife crisis comedy This Is 40 set to open in theaters next week, there is one thing that is peculiar. While it hasn't been nearly as massive as others, many have argued that Apatow's latest stands a chance at a few Oscar nominations. As absurd as it sounds, this isn't that far fetched, considering his influence on the comedy community (he did direct this bit for the Oscars). However, is the film capable of even placing this late in the race, especially since it didn't get a Golden Globe nomination?

Chalk this up to some of the most ridiculous propaganda of the awards season. Judd Apatow, whose catalog includes raunchy comedies The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up is actually getting Oscar attention for his "sort of sequel" to Knocked Up, a movie that featured weed smoking, a close-up of a birth scene, and a whole lot of cursing. It may have ended up feeling more like a sitcom than a dirty comedy, but it still didn't exactly blow the mold for Oscar contenders, nor did it resonate well enough to make a movie about the least interesting characters in the film.

Still, with Apatow's previous film, Funny People, he divided audiences with a two and a half hour film about stand-up comedy, cancer, and love. He was slowly evolving beyond the frat boy humor and became an emotional satirist in the vein of James L. Brooks. There is little doubt that based on trailers that Apatow has only gotten more earnest and invited more of his comedy buddies to join in on the fun, including Albert Brooks. If the line-up doesn't look impressive, then consider that he has quickly evolved since Knocked Up to be one of the most influential directors of comedy in the genre.

Last year saw something slightly unexpected. While Apatow-produced film Bridesmaids won Best Comedy or Musical at the Golden Globes, nobody expected any traction at the Oscars. It didn't get a Best Picture nomination, but it did result in a surprising two nominations: Best Original Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Melissa McCarthy. They may have lost, but it officially established that Apatow could break the mold and make comedy a viable contender at the Oscars. In fact, that could be where the steam behind This Is 40 originated.

As I have stated, Apatow is slowly turning into a modern James L. Brooks, who had multiple nominations, including wins for Best Picture and Best Director for Terms of Endearment: another modern tale of reflecting on your life in a very heartfelt way. Apatow's films also can be seen as starting to resonate with the predominantly older voters, who may relate to the subject matter. If the film manages to have any endearing aspects to it, it may at very least get Apatow an Oscar nomination and get him on the radar. Bridesmaids was a good start and it would be surprising if that was the end for him, at least from a producer standpoint. Also, almost everyone who has seen the film seems to think that it is hilarious, thus adding positive momentum.

But the first big hurdle came last week. According to the Golden Globes, This Is 40 is not the best of anything. No Best Musical or Comedy (especially in a year when Salmon Fishing in the Yemen somehow made the cut). No Best Actor, Best Director, or even Best Screenplay (though Apatow is notorious for improvisational performances). It was an odd film to discredit from the race, especially since the Golden Globes are all for celebrity over quality. Still, the Golden Globes are predecessors to the Oscars, and I am sure that the Bridesmaids nominations boosted that film's success. By not nominating This Is 40 at all, it kind of almost disqualifies it before it began. While the Best Comedy nominees rarely make the Oscars cut anyways, This Is 40 could have used some recognition.

I doubt that this is the end of Judd Apatow's influence on the Oscars. However, I just don't see this movie having any shot. He may be doomed to only having work that he's produced get nominated. However, he is a silver lining to the awards season, as he is an advocate for comedy as a valid art form. If he never gets nominated, we can at least thank him for using his power to get comedy into the Best Picture race. While not quite a success story, there are chances that it may happen in our lifetime. 

Left to right: Chris O'Dowd, Megan Fox, and Jason Segel
Of course, one of the biggest flaws in his films have been time lengths. This one clocks in at 134 minutes. Comedy has been controversially considered to be done best at short lengths. Apatow is also a purveyor in pushing that boundary. However, this film cannot be any better for being that long. Even if it ends up being really good, the Academy will not recognize its Oscar chances because they don't recognize comedy. Or at very least, comedies that feature Megan Fox being fondled in her underwear. The one benefit is that it could be a relevant look at the modern era midlife crisis, even though the trailers sell it as a specific midlife crisis that almost seems too privileged. 

The final nail in the coffin is that with the Golden Globes, a lot has changed. Moonrise Kingdom has escalated its chances at a Best Picture nomination immensely. The Master, while still in the race, has suffered due to a lack of Best Drama nomination (though benefited from the acting slots). Even Argo has regained attention and may seem like a viable candidate against Zero Dark Thirty and (unfortunately) Lincoln. The slots are more focused on heavy, established contenders (including the will it/won't it Beasts of the Southern Wild). This Is 40 suffers from having absolutely no momentum, which at this point buries it into irrelevance.

But anything can happen. This Is 40 can become a commercial success and gain enough attention to earn that Oscar Buzz that was haphazardly thrown upon it. At very least, it shows that Judd Apatow still has an influence on the Academy in that his buzz has lasted this long. However, thanks to the Golden Globes and every other nominating program right now, I don't see the chances happening. It may be a good film, maybe even funny, but this isn't the film that turns Apatow into the most accepted comedy director at the Oscars since James L. Brooks.

Is it possible that this film will get traction? Will we land any nomination at all? What about Best Adapted Screenplay? Is Paul Rudd capable of Best Actor? Is the emotional nature of Apatow's work only going to make him seem like an over privileged white man that is out of touch? Was Bridesmaids a good start to his time as an Oscar buzz person?

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