REVIEW: This Is 40

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This Is 40
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Written by: Judd Apatow (screenplay)
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow and Iris Apatow

Paul Rudd is the only main character in Judd Apatow’s latest movie who isn’t part of the comedy auteur’s actual nuclear family.  The wife (Leslie Mann) and two children (Maude and Iris Apatow) are basically playing out better-written scenarios of their lives with a cuter dad.

This makes everything about This Is 40 feel both a little weirder and a little more alive; it’s like making your family relive an awkward Christmas on camera.  Apatow is a keen observer of white upper middle class life, though his considerable success as writer, director and producer over the past few years has made his class standing considerably higher than that.  This movie is his best since his other movie with 40 in the title, albeit much more pensive and mature.

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REVIEW: Jeff, Who Lives at Home

Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Directed by: Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass
Written by: Mark Duplass & Jay Duplass (screenplay)
Starring: Jason Segel, Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer

Home is not a place.  It is a state of mind; that feeling of comfort, security and belonging.  For many, clinging to an idea of home is one of the driving forces of their day-to-day lives.  In Jeff, Who Lives at Home, the Duplass Brothers examine this notion with a light touch and a heavy injection of fate.

If home occupies the film’s title, destiny is its true focus.  The three main characters- brothers Jeff (Jason Segel) and Pat (Ed Helms) and their mother Sharon (Susan Sarandon)- are all clumsily shoved into each other with narrative push.  This would be completely amateurish if it weren’t for the focus on fate at the movie’s core.  The movie takes Jeff’s point of view even when he’s not there, pushing his bizarre world view into a reality that isn’t quite made for it.

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REVIEW: The Muppets

The Muppets
Directed by: James Bobin
Written by: Jason Segel & Nicholas Stoller (screenplay), Jim Henson (characters),
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobsen

The entirety of this reboot of The Muppets franchise is about why it’s necessary.  The Muppets will be duking it out with Scream 4 for the title of “Most self-reflexive movie of 2011,” and sadly it’s the same mess of mixed quality and mediocre execution.

Jason Segel and Amy Adams play Gary and Mary, two people who, along with Gary’s Muppet brother Walter (voiced by Peter Linz), attempt to get the Muppet gang back together for a farewell show.  Segel co-wrote the screenplay with Nicholas Stoller, and it’s unfortunate that such a worthy premise oddly can’t decide if it wants to be funny or not.

In structure and (sometimes) tone this reboot resembles the Seinfeld Reunion season of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Kermit The Frog (voiced by Steve Whitmire) joins the oddball trio to reassemble his Muppet posse, with Curb’s Seinfeld reunion line “We’ll do it in a way that won’t be lame,” being implied instead of spoken.  The Muppets are battling to be relevant, and the visual gags and several self-reflexive references are made to do battle with forced pathos instead of being front-and-center.

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REVIEW: Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Written by: Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, and Justin Timberlake

Who knew that the winds of change would start blowing in formulaic summer comedies?  Last summer, Bad Teacher may have been a sequel to Bad Santa that had Billy Bob Thornton reprising one of his most infamous roles.  Instead, it’s become a female-driven vehicle for Cameron Diaz.

Paired with Bridesmaids, it’s hard to not observe the raunchy tone these women have used to start embedding themselves into the mainstream.  It is worth mentioning that this film was written by men while Bridesmaids was written by women, and it doesn’t really delve into the pathos of any of the women.

The issue of gender is not brought up in either film, which is why it makes them relevant.  Bad Teacher is fairly weak, though; typical hallow summer fare chock-full of some great gags and biting one-liners.  As part of a larger case study, though, it merits mention.

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