August 3, 2009 / 6:02 AM / in 8 years

The serious side of the "Funny People" aftermath

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Let’s call this weekend what it is: some cold proof that Judd Apatow’s hot streak is over.

<p>Actor Adam Sandler poses at the premiere of his new comedy film "Funny People" in Hollywood July 20, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>

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.

<p>Adam Sandler in a scene from "Funny People". REUTERS/Universal Pictures/Handout</p>

Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that Apatow is in many ways a victim of his own success, and the high bar that success has set. A $60 million or $70 million comedy, as many have been (and “Funny People” may still be) is still good. It’s just not Apatow good.

The line has been that Apatow should be judged first by what he directs, not necessarily what he produces -- after all, the writers, directors and actors Apatow Prods. has incubated are branching out, and it’s harder to ensure consistent success when you’re trying to establish something new. But “Funny People” puts a ding in that argument -- it’s not likely to reach the $109 million of “Virgin” or the $149 million of “Knocked Up.”

The weekend box office makes the recent news about Apatow’s three-picture production deal at Universal so notable. It also makes you wonder how the studio will market/fare with the next Apatow Factory product, “Get Him to the Greek,” which reunites “Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s” Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller behind the camera and Jonah Hill and Russell Brand in front of it.

As for Apatow himself, what he does next as a writer-director is anyone’s guess. From a commercial standpoint, it’s tempting, after the dramatic ambitions of “Funny People,” to say he should go more broadly comedic. Except we’d argue that the dramatic elements actually are what seem fresh in this movie (it’s the Apatow-ian broad stuff/d@&k jokes that are starting to feel a little old).

Besides, the character-driven material is exactly what gave juice to his first breakout, “Virgin,” which was a comedy with a strongly defined person at the center and a touch of the serious (only with the theme of chastity instead of mortality). Come to think of it “Knocked Up” -- also “long,” incidentally -- had some of those elements too. So this wasn’t as off-brand as some would have it.

The man who wore the Apatow crown when JA was still toiling in TV actually has had a similar trajectory. Todd Philips, working at a time before the R-rated comedy was in vogue, had two breakouts in a three-year span (“Road Trip” and “Old School”). He then endured a five-year dry spell with comedies like “School for Scoundrels” before returning in a big way this year.

For Apatow, this weekend demonstrates that the party may be over. Now he may be ready for his “Hangover.”

Editing by dean.goodman at Reuters

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