There’s still scant information going around about Judd Apatow’s fourth film as writer-director. Previously entitled “This is Forty,” all we knew previously was that it was a spin-off/sequel of sorts to 2006’s “Knocked Up” featuring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's characters five years on from the events of the first film. It also boasts a bevy of talent either culled from other Apatow projects or newly welcomed into the family -- Megan Fox, Lena Dunham, Chris O’Dowd, Wyatt Russell, Melissa McCarthy , Annie Mumolo, and Ryan Lee – with Charlene Yi and Jason Segel as the only other holdovers from the 2006 original. Now there's another nugget of information. Albert Brooks -- a talented writer-director in his own right whose deft blend of scabrous self-criticism and incisive comedy has been consistently underrated -- is set to play Rudd’s father, and has given some insight as to what the film's tone will be and hints that audiences should expect something more closely aligned to the messy emotionalism of “Funny People” than the out-and-out yuks of Apatow’s earlier efforts.
Speaking to the LA Times, and agreeing with the reporter that Apatow was aiming for ground covered in that 2009 film, he said, "That’s where Judd’s going as he gets older, melding [drama and comedy]. He’s developing that [balance] more as more things happen to him; he’s kicking that into his work... There are quite a few scenes where something very funny comes, and immediately there’s a dramatic moment that’s more ‘Isn’t that what life is?’ ”
Allusions to “Funny People” could well be a mixed blessing. Undoubtedly it’s the director’s most personal work to date, and it’s been disturbingly prophetic as to where Adam Sandler’s subsequent career has ended up, but it was a 146-minute rumination on – amongst other things – the pathology and general assholery required to be a stand-up comedian, and some quarters of Apatow’s fanbase rejected it as an overlong and self-involved screed that scrimped on the 'funny' part of its title.
It makes sense that Apatow would bring on board someone like Brooks, who’s not done anything meaningful on screen since “Looking For Comedy in the Muslim World,” but is an essential performer who had a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the oft-imitated but never bettered “Broadcast News” stolen from him by Sean Connery in 1987. Apatow’s own career seems to be mimicking Brooks’ pretty closely as Brooks' later works like “Defending Your Life” and “Mother” drifted away from the fraught neuroses of "Modern Romance" and ended up as serio-comedic explorations of existence. Apatow’s also been pretty clearly styling himself as the heir apparent to James L. Brooks for a while now – both in terms of bridging the divide between drama and comedy in his filmic work, and acting as a kind of mafioso don for shepherding talent, both old and new, to success under his tutelege.
However, this is all good news for Albert Brooks fans, especially given that Apatow seems to covet his role as chief enabler. Since 2011 has been such a banner year for Brooks – he published a great book; most of the enthusiastic reviews of “Drive” take pause to give the actor some props in his character-subverting supporting turn – it’s not beyond the realm of possibility he’s being groomed to take on a project of his own, though that’s just wild speculation on our part. And seeing as the last time Apatow parachuted a renowned actor-director who did much to change the face of American comedy into the role of a father figure – it was Harold Ramis in “Knocked Up,” in fact -- we ended up with “Year One,” it might be best to reserve judgment for now.
Apatow’s latest project is being planned for a December 2012 release by Universal.