Sunday, January 30, 2011

Get Him to the Greek

Judd Apatow is producing and often directing a growing list of films aimed at teens and young adults. The members of each generation have their own interests and preferences, codes and values, and they are reflected in the films they watch. Apatow’s films are funny, sometimes witty, usually raunchy, occasionally heartwarming, and the latter emotion in some way is meant to excuse the raunch. I am hesitant to make the following statement, for fear of being labeled an old kludge, but the entertainment offered in Get Him to the Greek (2010; dir. Nicholas Stoller; produced by Apatow) reflects the long, slow decline in popular films since the 1970s.

Get Him to the Greek gave me a lot of chuckles and a few belly laughs. But I am a cheap date. A young man who wants to find a place in the music business (Jonah Hill) is assigned to escort from England to Los Angeles a drug-addled, recently divorced, basket case of a rock star named Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) for a comeback concert at the Greek Theatre. Hijinks ensue, fairly silly and lewd, and entertaining. In the end, we discover that Brand is only a lonely artist who needs a friend. Jonah Hill’s improbable character finds his place in the music world, and all is good. The film is hollow. From the beginning the odor of the formula permeates—an overly ambitious hero too willing to compromise himself for the job he wants learns what’s really important in life. Hill and Brand merely go through the motions of filling in the formula. Hill plays a character much like he has always played (just a little older) while Brand plays a version of himself. Brand is fun to watch, but he doesn’t seem to have much range or depth.

Apatow and followers have learned that scatology, over-indulgence, drug jokes, and various forms of kinky sex (or the promise thereof) are what the demographic this film is aimed at wants. They’ve also learned that if the end of such a film tacks on a moralistic ending, one in which the drunken sot of a rock star discovers his need for friendship, and the music company lackey escorting him across the continent realizes his selfishness, then they will be praised for their refined perspective.

Were the films I saw when I was twenty on the same level as this one? When they are thirty years older, will the audience members for Get Him to the Greek rank this film and The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and Superbad in the same category as Cool Hand Luke and Easy Rider and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Graduate?

Entropy is one diagnosis.

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