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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Memo to Judd Apatow: Your movie is too long!

Dear Judd:

As you know, I'm a big admirer of your work, in all its many permutations, going back--way back--to your TV work ("Freaks and Geeks" still hasn't lost a step) and early film efforts (it being NBA playoff time,  my kid and I being true-blue Celtic fans have been wearing out "Celtic Pride"). But I just read the worrisome interview on MTV News in which you say that your upcoming Adam Sandler movie "Funny People" is--gasp!--150 minutes long. I thought MTV might have misquoted you somehow, so I called an exec at Universal Pictures, the studio releasing the film, who confirmed that the film--as it stands now--is indeed 150 minutes, though he assured me that you're still tinkering with the cut, so if I was eager to influence your decision making, now would be the time to offer any free advice. (Actually, what he really said was: "PLEASE, GOD, GET HIM TO CUT THE MOVIE!" but I think that part might have been off-the-record.) 

Since you're a final cut director and have made lots of moola for the studio, no one on the inside is going to put any undue pressure on you--studio execs hate to ruin a good relationship by having a fight with a filmmaker that they can't win. But as an outsider, I can be honest with you: 2-1/2-hour comedies don't work. The form isn't meant to carry that much weight. I'm sure you have your reasons: Having seen your trailer (which is a little long itself), I realize you have a complicated story to tell, a story that's not just for laughs, since it's about a comedian who thinks he's dying but then realizes that he's not and has to figure out how that double-whammy changes his priorities about his life.

Funnypeople I've also gathered from your interviews that you see "Funny People" (and forgive me for oversimplifying a little here) as your Jim Brooks movie, a film that mixes comedy and drama. And yes, if Jim Brooks is your model, you're going to run a little long, since if you averaged out the running time of his best films ("As Good as It Gets," "Broadcast News" and "Terms of Endearment") they'd come out at around 135 minutes. But I would caution you that Jim Brooks is one of a kind, a once in a generation dramatist and comic wizard. And if you're set on emulating on him, the bar is awfully high, especially since he was working with Jack Nicholson and William Hurt and Holly Hunter and Debra Winger and Shirley MacLaine and Albert Brooks, and you, my friend, are working with Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen.

If you're doing a comedy, especially one set in the world of stand-up comics, less is more. Always. Comedy is a form that rewards quick set-ups, sharp, fast editing and a rapid pace. They may share the first letter, but in comedy, languid, listless and lethargic scenes do not get the laughs. Victory goes to the hare, not to the turtle. The record on this is quite clear. I could take you all the way back to Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, not to mention Preston Sturges, Gregory La Cava, Frank Tashlin, John Landis and Ivan Reitman, but just check out your own contemporaries.

Adam Sandler's best movies--"Happy Gilmore," "The Waterboy," "Big Daddy" and "50 First Dates"--were all under 100 minutes. Ditto for the best Coen brothers comedies, notably "Fargo" as well as Jay Roach's best "Austin Powers" films. Shawn Levy's "Pink Panther" and "Cheaper by the Dozen" were both under 100 minutes; David Wain's "Role Models" clocked in at 101 minutes; John Hamburg's "I Love You, Man" was 105 minutes; Roach's "Meet the Parents" and Levy's "Night at the Museum" were both 108 minutes. You got away with one on "Knocked Up," which ran 129 minutes and really felt poky in the second half of the movie.

I hope you won't push your luck with "Funny People." Keep showing your cut to an audience (i.e. real people, not your pals) and listen to the room. I know you're really good at this stuff and it's probably laughable for a journalist to be lecturing you about comedy, but sometimes it helps to have an outside opinion. I know this movie must be especially personal for you, but even personal films should adhere to the eternal laws of the comic universe. Just ask Cameron Crowe, who couldn't force himself to bring "Elizabethtown" in under two hours and paid the price. The movie had wonderful moments in it, but it lingered--and lingered--and lost its rhythm. I get the feeling your movie has a lot of soul too, but remember: The soul of comedy is brevity.

Your loyal fan.

Patrick Goldstein

Photo: A scene from Judd Apatow's upcoming comedy "Funny People." Photo credit: Universal Pictures.

 
Comments () | Archives (11)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Patrick, you're a great writer but how can you leave off Adam Sandler's best movie, "Billy Madison," in favor of Sub-par hits like "Big Daddy" and "50 First Dates"?

Compare the funny-but-unnecessary director's cut 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN to the theatrical cut. The theatrical cut's pacing is stronger and funnier; it just flows better.

I love people who judge things they haven't seen. They are never, ever proven wrong.

If you're looking at films that mix comedy and drama (but with Adam Sandler), Punch-Drunk Love was only 95 mins.

For the most part, I really like Judd's works. They're usually entertaining and endearing, but finding the right combination that satisfies both within the confines of a comedy generally means leaving out the slow, context building parts. And if you're going to have slow, context-building scenes, they probably need to have more than just a dick to keep you distracted. Generally speaking, a dick offers the worst distraction possible when searching for meaning within a scene. The comedy created by juxtaposing emotional heartache with dick and hollywood insider jokes along the mirror effect of having a hollywood comedy comment on it's hollywood nature tends to be somewhat off-putting. Forgetting Sara Marshal remains the only one I'll watch repeatedly.

"Hey, you know how I know you're gay?"

"How?"

"You like that movie with that dude's dick."

"Yeah but that hot chick from That 70's Show shows boob, too."

"How do you know those were hers? That was only a picture. Photoshop, dude."

"Good thing I know how to maintain eye contact in a locker room. You know how I know you're gay?"

"How."

"Because you spent the time to analyze that that was actually that dudes dick and the boobs were probably fake."

"I fail to see the correlation between recognizing the difference between real dick and fake boobs making me gay. If anything it makes me a man of distinguishing taste. Is it wrong to feel cheated for paying to see real dick and only photoshop boob?"

This is possibly the dumbest article I have ever read. I just figured he had seen the movie and thought it was too long! But no, he HEARD how long it was. And yes, There's Something About Mary and Happy Gilmore shouldn't be 2 and 1/2 hours, but this is NOT a straight comedy. Hold off until you see a movie before you slam it. With the lame qualification of "I'm a big fan!" What a monumental waste of my time. Ugh.

I stopped reading after the second paragraph, and wish I had not read the second whole. This is why I avoid watching trailers and reading critics' reviews: they give away the whole freakin' plot or important twists. I had been teased that Funny People was about a dying comedian and his protegé, which had me sold... but now I know a plot twist I wish I didn't. I hope my ADD does not make forget I shouldn't read any other Patrick Goldstein pieces.

I thought this was a little harsh. Remember aptow and Rogen have given us some of the funniest films in the last two years. This is his chance to branch out and be challenged. I agree there is a formula for comedy vs. drama, but the heart of film making is about taking chances. What if people told Alfred Hitchcock not to make Rope. Im sure they did, but he still took the chance.

DBAPTISTE
GOD CAN

I have seen this film at an Arclight screening and was unaware of its long running time. I just enjoyed it for what it was; an endearing and funny comedy that was well-acted, original, and ripe with emotional truth.

I think the examples and comparisons made in this article are unfair and illogical. Watch the movie first and then offer an opinion on what you would cut or change about it. It makes no sense to pass judgment on a film based solely on something as arbitrary as it's running time in comparison to other films, especially some of the films mentioned in this article.

To even write a "Memo" like this demonstrates a problematic "in the box" perspective that draws into question the very validity of Mr. Goldstein's professional opinion. Perhaps the years of enduring and reviewing the waves of cookie-cutter-conventional disappointments the studios tend to offer has left this reviewer biased toward the conventional or what he might perceive as a "safe" viewing experience. The validity of a film has little if nothing to do with how its specs compare to the specs of other films within their apparent genre.

I understand that the point of this article is to influence Mr. Apatow into altering his film into a package that Mr. Goldstein has assumed he will better enjoy. I also understand that the reviewer may very well be correct about the running time. Perhaps the film would be better enjoyed by most audiences if his advice was taken into consideration. However, I think what is more likely to occur is that most people who read and take this article seriously will avoid the movie altogether or go into it with a biased disposition toward it's running time. If the goal was to reach Apatow, why not send an actual Memo or letter to Apatow personally instead of putting out into the public the idea that his movie is too long. As a fan of Mr. Apatow, I would think Mr Goldstein would want to avoid sandbagging 'Funny People' before it opens or he has had a chance to see it.

While a certain amount of bias is unavoidable when discussing one's opinion on anything (take a look at last weeks Sotomayor Senate Judiciary hearings for an example of this discussion), it is irresponsible for someone in Mr. Goldstein's position to engage in this type of unfounded criticism. Movie Critics should review movies and not running times. So for everyone's sake, if you're a critic, save the criticism for films you have actually seen.

Having seen the movie I can honestly say that I didn't even REALIZE that 2.5 hours had gone by at the end, and was completely surprised that it had lasted that long. The plot is compelling and the characters are engaging enough to keep my concentration and interest for that long. A movie critic should realize that movies are made or broken based on CONTEXT, not LENGTH and to make the statement "Your movie is too long" having not even seen the movie is insulting and irresponsible.

To all who are considering seeing this movie, if you've enjoyed anything starring Seth Rogen or Adam Sandler and/or have enjoyed anything made by Judd Apatow, please do yourself a favor and GO SEE IT putting out of your mind how long it is. You'll be glad you did.

 
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