Star buzz: Not Funny enough

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Star buzz: Not Funny enough

In the wake of the middling $22.6 million opening for Judd Apatow’s latest film Funny People, Hollywood eagerly declared the prolific filmmaker’s stock was still very high.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Wed 5 Aug 2009, 11:46 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 11:05 PM

Managers, agents and development executives interviewed on Monday said Apatow’s minor misstep at the box office as well as some industry grumbling about the picture’s 146-minute length and tone weren’t likely to affect his standing with studios.

“This is someone who still makes movies at a pretty low cost, works with amazing talent and has the box office track record to back him up,” one talent rep said.

Or as Underground Management’s Trevor Engleson, who represents a number of comedy clients, put it: “If I were his manager, I wouldn’t tell him to change anything. The town is going to let him continue making the movies he wants to make.”

People underperformed compared to Apatow’s last picture, Knocked Up, which opened to $30.7 million on the way to a $149 million domestic total. Although it outgrossed the $21.4 million opening of Apatow’s first directorial effort, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, People is not expected to show the leggy holding power that ultimately boosted Virgin to $109.4 million at the domestic box office.

Still, the new Universal release nonetheless earned about one-third of its estimated $75 million budget, and it could break even when all is said and done.

Many also were willing to give Apatow a pass because he tried something off-brand by tackling more serious themes: Adam Sandler stars as a comedian diagnosed with a fatal disease. They said that Universal, which last week signed him to a three-picture directing deal, made the right move to lock up Apatow despite the shaky advance buzz for People.

Since the movie pushed in a dramatic direction with mixed critical and commercial results, there’s a question about what direction those upcoming Universal pictures could take — will Apatow continue with the dramatic elements of People or revert to earlier form?

Because the filmmaker tends to write his own material, developing his scripts with an intimate group and then casting among an almost equally small coterie, little is known about his projects while they’re in development. Nor do they take a long time to come together; Apatow has been on a bi-annual directing schedule since 2005’s Virgin.

One talent rep said that he believes Apatow would find a way to go back to the high-concept material that marked his previous ideas, the kind that could be summarised succinctly (“Schlub gets hot girl pregnant”) while still tapping into the zeitgeist. “I still think he does something relevant and very observational,” the rep said. “But I think he goes back to something with a big hook.”

Others said they could envision him continuing in a dramatic direction, and that People would smooth the way. “He has to ease his way up the slope,” said Conan Smith, the former Endeavor rep who has launched his own comedy-centric banner, Ante Up Prods. “But once you get to the top of that slope, you have a newfound audience.”

If there is a more significant change in the cards, it will be on the producing side. After some mixed results with his production slate during the past 18 months, Apatow Prods. will likely concentrate on its homegrown talent. Arguably the two movies from the Apatow Prods. factory that struggled the most, Sony’s recent period comedy Year One and Paramount’s Owen Wilson-starrer Drillbit Taylor, were not developed and honed in-house in the way that, say, Pineapple Express was.

The cupboard is now a little more bare than it’s been in the past, when several Apatow Prods. were shooting or in post at the same time. In fact, there’s only one unreleased project now beyond the development stage. For the first time since 2006, next year will bring only one Apatow Prods. title: the music comedy Get Him to the Greek, which spins off Russell Brand’s deluded rock star from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and reunites that picture’s Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller as writer and director, respectively.

That lull should allow Apatow and producing partner Shauna Robertson to decide what direction they’d like to take. There are titles on the Apatow Prods. slate with proven Apatow proteges like Jonah Hill (the adoption comedy The Middle Child, which Hill has written) and another Stoller-Segel collaboration, the couples tale Five-Year Engagement.

At the same time, the calm offers a chance to develop newer names within the Apatow fold. That includes figures like Ian Berger and David Krumholtz, who have penned development projects like the buddy comedy A Whole New Hugh and hip-hop sendup Attorneys at Raw, respectively.

“Judd was smart. He struck while the iron is hot,” one development exec said in describing the development slate. “That means he’s not going to have as much as he once did. But knowing him, he’ll put a few other things forward. Even if 2010 is quiet, 2011 will be busy again.”

The serious side of the ‘Funny People’ aftermath

Let’s call this weekend what it is: some cold proof that Judd Apatow’s hot streak is over.

There are many metrics you can choose from after the underwhelming $23.4 million take this weekend of the writer/director/producer’s Funny People.

A few:

· This will likely be the eighth straight movie that Apatow produced that failed to top $100 million. (Step Brothers and You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, the latter of which he also wrote, just reached the mark but didn’t surpass it.)

· Opening weekend has been a hallmark of Apatow in his robust years. But only two of these past eight films opened to at least $30 million — after the three previous pictures all did.

· This month marks exactly two years since Apatow Prods. had a bona fide breakout along the lines of a Talladega Nights or The 40-Year-Old Virgin — the Greg Mottola-directed Superbad, which earned $121 million.

· After Virgin and Knocked Up, Apatow was touted for his rare ability to bring overseas audiences to U.S. comedies. That was then, this is now. Outside of Zohan, none of his previous seven pictures have topped $150 million internationally. Funny People isn’t likely to change that.

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