Apatow and David Gordon Green break new comedic collaboration ground with “Pineapple Express”


R, 111 minutes, Columbia Pictures

From what can be traced back to basically the start of this decade, both mega-producer Judd Apatow and independent filmmaker David Gordon Green have been steadily escalating to the top of their craft, cementing themselves as stand-outs amongst their comparable colleagues, at least in my opinion. It has been a tough, under-appreciated road to get here for both men, whose works early on this decade (Apatow with the television shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, and Green with the poetic debut, George Washington) didn’t find an audience until much later on, with Apatow’s in particular eventually becoming cult classics. Still, they both had the momentum of unanimous critical acclaim working on their side with everything they were creating, and it would only be a matter of time before they found an avenue into widespread appeal. For Apatow, that avenue was certainly in the choice of producing Will Ferrell/Adam McKay projects, which started out with his breakout hit, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Looking back, that was definitely the lift-off point for Apatow’s career, the spot where his uncanny comedic knack was finally paying wealthy dues. For Green, however, it has been a much longer wait for exposure. Since his Sundance Film Festival breakthrough in 2000, he has been at the helm of three more films. In 2003 he made what I consider to be one of the top 5 films of this decade, the heartbreaking All the Real Girls. He followed that a year later with a Terrence Malick-inspired masterpiece, Undertow. In the time since then, we now know that he was finally making his attempt to segue into comedy (all while creating another hard-hitting piece of serious cinema, Snow Angels), something that he has stated in the past that he was eager to do and was ready to show the world he could pull off well. Somewhere along the line, Apatow heard that Green was waiting for the perfect chance to make that venture, and the producer is at the risk-taking point in his career that he made it happen. The most impressive, poetic new filmmaker of this generation, known for dark, human dramas, has teamed up with the new whiz-kid of comedy. Needless to say, it all culminates in a unique experience.

One of the main ingredients in concocting his many successful comedy projects is Apatow’s decision to keep a closely knit, old school family together, and in Pineapple Express there are a ton of familiar faces both at the front and in the background. He enlisted the likes of Freaks and Geeks alumni Seth Rogen and James Franco to play the film’s stoner buddies, and what makes the casting even more ingenious is the fact that it’s Franco, not Rogen, who is playing the oblivious-to-life drug dealer…and it’s so much fun just to watch these two play off of each other. Rogen co-wrote the screenplay with his longtime friend and Superbad partner, Evan Goldberg, and combined with the eye of Gordon Green, have turned Pineapple Express into an unpredictable, over-the-top of over-the-top, standing ovation throwback to 80’s buddy comedies. The movie’s idea is an extremely simple one taken to insane heights of hilarity – two stoners are on the run from a psychotic drug lord after one of them witnesses him murder a member of the opposing Asian force. Gary Cole plays the villain with an entirely serious tone, and that’s what makes the character so funny, because it’s almost like he knows he’s in a carefree comedy but refuses to give in to the zaniness, for something inside him tells him that he needs to be straight-laced and ruthless. Along for the ride is a cast that, as I mentioned before, is peppered with some of the usual faces we’re so accustomed to expect in an Apatow production. In an opening sequence that is so unexpected that I won’t even mention anything about, Bill Hader appears and makes himself very memorable, along with the very odd addition of James Remar mixed in.

There are very funny supporting performances that assist the Express in chugging along as well as it does throughout its runtime, and most notably from Danny McBride as a two-timing middleman dealer named Red, and also Craig Robinson as one of the idiotic henchman sent to track the two down. McBride has been on the same rocky road to stardom as Green, the two being schoolmates at college many years ago and since collaborating on lots of things. The stand-out among the old friends’ collaborations before this point was in All the Real Girls, where Green had the role of Bust-Ass entirely written with McBride in mind. He knew his friend was a natural with comedic timing, and in Pineapple Express he gets a chance to hold his own alongside Rogen and Franco, and he does. It’s good to see not only Green becoming successful with this project, but also McBride, who is catapulting between this and another nice little supporting role in Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan are also familiar Apatow faces, with Robinson shining the most in this film, nearly every line he has elevating to the top of my favorite moments of the entire experience. I look for Robinson to start to appear in more significant roles in the future, especially after this and his small but gut-busting performance as the bouncer in Knocked Up. There are many more faces that will be noticed throughout, including veteran actors Rosie Perez, Ed Begley, Jr, and Nora Dunn, all having a really good time. This is what I imagined it being, and more – a new, innovative comedy that found a marriage between perfect comic timing and a brilliant captain behind the camera. It is an experience that has to be seen at least twice to fully savor and appreciate. It is the mighty Pineapple Express.

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2 Responses to “Apatow and David Gordon Green break new comedic collaboration ground with “Pineapple Express””

  1. Robert Says:

    Nice.
    It’s good to see you back behind the wheel my friend.
    Welcome.

  2. Ferguson Says:

    Thanks…

    …and thanks also for being a faithful reader. It is most appreciated.

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