Judd Apatow has directed only three movies, but his name — even more than, say, Steven Spielberg’s — is powerfully associated with a great many films that he shepherded but didn’t direct, like Superbad or Pineapple Express. There’s a good reason for that. The Judd Apatow school, or factory, or whatever you want to call it, doesn’t always produce great movies, but most of them are worthy, a good number of them are inspired, and his name, as a result, has come to symbolize something potent — and, to me, extraordinarily hopeful — in Hollywood. The name “Judd Apatow” doesn’t just mean movies that make you laugh, or that have a certain colorfully literate raunch factor. It means movies that are raunchy and smart and soulful at the same time — movies that dig into experience, that bring back the art of screenwriting, that are about real characters and real relationships, and that have made comedy (and, indeed, mainstream movies) safe for adults again.
Most of them, not so incidentally, have been hits. And that has made the launch of Bridesmaids out of the Judd Apatow cannon (and into the Apatow canon) an especially noteworthy experiment. For, of course, it’s the first picture to come out under Apatow’s imprimatur that’s devoted to the lives of women. The movie, which stars Kristen Wiig as a cathartically neurotic and frazzled maid of honor, was directed by Paul Feig (the creator of Freaks and Geeks), from a marvelous script by Wiig and Annie Mumolo, and though I have no problem calling it the best mainstream movie I’ve seen so far this year, it’s no insult to the collaborative achievement of Wiig, Mumolo, and Feig to point out that the film has a distinctly recognizable Apatow arc and vibe. It’s there in the funny-but-never-less-than-clever gross-out scenes, in the motley feminine wolfpack (which echoes the hilariously confessional overgrown boys’ clubs of such Apatow films as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Funny People), and in the way that the movie nudges its heroine past a mere troublesome “situation” and into an unvarnished comic identity crisis.
Since Bridesmaids is the first de facto “chick flick” to emerge from the Apatow school, even those of us who thought it would be successful probably wouldn’t have predicted that it would overtake most of Apatow’s previous big-gorilla smashes. But that may be exactly what’s happening. Bridesmaids, as of Monday night, has grossed $89 million, and that, unless there’s a film I’m forgetting (trust me, it would not be the divine Forgetting Sarah Marshall), places it at number four on the all-time Apatow hit list, just ahead of Pineapple Express ($87 million). But Bridesmaids, which is now packing in all sorts of crowds (it’s a girls’-night-out flick, a date movie, and, thanks to word of mouth, a grownups’-night-out movie), has shown no signs of slowing down. If the picture enjoys just one more solid weekend, it threatens to pass the box-office take of number three on the list, The 40-Year-Old Virgin ($109.5 million). And if it gets that far, then number two, Superbad ($121.5 million), looms right up ahead. If it succeeds in surpassing Superbad, that would leave only one Apatow film out in front of it: Knocked Up, which grossed $149 million. That would be a pretty steep hill for Bridesmaids to climb.
But it’s not out of the question. Knocked Up, which I personally always thought was quite overrated (I never bought those two as a couple, even with a surprise pregnancy to bring them together), had the benefit of novelty: Far more than The 40-Year-Old Virgin, it announced that a bold new voice had arrived to shake up and, indeed, remake the romantic-comedy landscape. And that’s at least one reason why people kept going, and going, to see it. Bridesmaids, I would argue, has a comparable degree of novelty, and maybe even more of it, since intelligent (and brilliantly funny) Hollywood movies that slice this deeply into the experience of contemporary women now come around about as often as… awards season. Or maybe stray meteors. More than just original, the movie is delirious fun — in my opinion, one of the two best movies ever to come out under the Apatow shingle, the other one being the superbly antic mind-versus-body teen masterpiece Superbad. I think there’s a very good chance that audiences will keep on going, and going, to Bridesmaids. And if they do, it’s no longer going to look like a Judd Apatow novelty. It’s going to look like the exception that demolished the rule.
So where do you think Bridesmaids will end up on the all-time Apatow hit list? Do you think it has a chance to be number one? And what do you think its success means: for Apatow, for Hollywood, for movies about women, and for women themselves?
Follow Owen on Twitter: @OwenGleiberman
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