Tick Reviews: Get Him To The Greek (2010)
Let me preface this review with something that will likely not be a popular sentiment – I do not like Judd Apatow’s films. I think Apatow is an extremely overrated writer that can’t stick the landing with any of his endings and recycles the same sloppily constructed character types from film to film. Don’t get me wrong, Apatow can write some extremely funny scenes. The problem is, he can’t sustain it through an entire film and always descends into pure cheese and phony sentiment by the time the credits roll. The man is good at the raunchy comedy, but once he tries to transition into actual emotions and romantic situations, his writing enters the territory of a “very special episode” of some horrible eighties sitcom.
His other big problem is that his characters tend to be the same shallow archetypes in every film. Katherine Heigl got a lot of shit for saying Knocked Up was sexist, but she’s mostly correct. Basically every female character that Apatow writes is the same. They’re always shrewish killjoys who’s only purpose is to complain and try to change a man from who he is into the sort of joyless sellout that they want.
Not that the male characters are shown in a better light. Apatow’s men come in two flavors. They’re either narcissistic assholes waiting to get their comeuppance or they’re bumbling man-children who can’t hope to even be happy, normal or useful members of society unless they find a woman to completely tear them down and build them back up into a different person.
Look, I’ve seen the interviews with Apatow where he gushes about his wife and how he should have never been able to get a woman like that and she’s too good for him and all that other tripe. I don’t care. I don’t care that The Forty Year Old Virgin is supposed to echo how his wife changed his life and Knocked Up is how his kids changed his life and Funny People, well, I can’t even guess what feeble morality tale that mess is preaching at us (Edit: The more I think about it, this is Apatow preaching at us that we’ll die miserable and alone if we don’t follow his lessons from the previous films. Fuck you, Apatow!). Nor, do I even want to start getting into the psychological issues on display in Apatow’s warped view of what constitutes a healthy relationship between a man and a woman or the mommy issues lurking under the surface. What I’m trying to say is, the films of Judd Apatow mostly suck.
Now, what all that has to do with Get Him To The Greek is very little. Apatow doesn’t really have a lot to do with this film, except being one of the producers. That and that the people responsible for his film are his protégés and if there is one thing that Apatow should be receiving a lot of credit for, it’s that he recognizes talent and brings them the opportunities that they deserve. It’s also wraps up the real point I was trying to make with my dismissal of Apatow’s work.
His protégés have taken the standard Apatow blueprints and perfected them in a way he hasn’t been able to achieve. Seth Rogen wrote Superbad in a way that was at once completely out there, yet still grounded in honest emotions and relatable moments that made it feel real. With Forgetting Sarah Marshal, Jason Segel managed to take Apatow’s style of combing the raunchy and sweet without ever making it cheesy, while showing Apatow how actual emotions are written. With Get Him To The Greek, Nicholas Stoller continues to show that Apatow’s people have learned from his mistakes and improved upon his formula. While not as successful as Superbad or Sarah Marshall, it still improves on what Apatow always get wrong.
Get Him To The Greek follows the misadventures of Aldous Snow, the same scene stealing character that Russel Brand played in Forgetting Sarah Marshal. Where Aldous Snow was at the top of his career in Sarah Marshall, this film opens with the moment when bloated ego, rampant substance abuse and a record label full of yes men converge as Snow releases the appalling and disastrous record, African Child. Aldous thinks he’s released the most important song in rock history and that it will single-handedly save whatever country it was in Africa that’s having all the fuss (he doesn’t actually remember himself, but he thinks he might be a white space Christ.) Cut to a few years later when African Child has been named the worst song of the decade and coupled with horrible sales and a string of embarrassing public meltdowns, Aldous Snow is now a washed up punchline.
It would be easy for his record label to forget about him, and they have, until low-level junior exec Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) comes up with a plan to have Aldous do a huge concert at LA’s Greek Theater to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the massively succesful record Snow’s band had recorded there a decade earlier. Studio head Sergio Roma (Sean “P.Diddy” Combs) has every reason to scoff at this, but Green has done all the research and provides the numbers to back up his plan. He gets his way and is tasked with getting Aldous Snow to the Greek in three days for the anniversary concert. To Green, it’s a dream job. He didn’t just concoct this plan for his own advancement. Aaron is Snow’s biggest fan and he wants to revive his career. He’s about to find out the hard way just how and why his hero wrecked his career.
Now, this may sound like the most basic and thin plot possible and honestly, it is. There’s not much beyond the zany road movie aspects of Hill’s character struggling to keep Aldous from going off the rails and get him to the concert on time. It’s all about the two characters themselves and the relationship they form with one another, as well as how they’ve dealt (or haven’t dealt) with the other relationships in their lives. It would have been fairly easy to have left the two characters as simple caricatures and just play off the broad humor. Afterall, the character of Aldous Snow was little more than a wild stereotype in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and due to the performance of Russel Brand, the character almost stole the movie. However, writer/director Nicholas Stoller gives it his best to fully flesh out the characters of Snow and Green and he mostly succeeds.
It would have been very easy to leave the character of Aldous Snow as just the blithering, egotistical, self-obsessed dip-shit that he was in Sarah Marshal or maybe turn that volume up to eleven. He is all those things once again, but there is depth to the character now. Snow is more than a bumbling Rock cliche, even though he’s that as well. Aldous is shown saying a lot of very stupid things, but he clearly isn’t dumb. At times, he’s extremely clever. He’s also frighteningly bi-polar, as many addicts are, snapping from charming and jovial to mean-spirited and potentially dangerous in a heart-beat. Brand plays these aspects perfectly, having had his share of addiction in his life. He also has brilliant comic timing and can deliver deadpan deliveries with an accuracy that is amazing.
The thing that is most impressive about Snow’s character is that every time things start going in a predictable direction, they really don’t. You think that standard reveal is rearing it’s ugly head and then it doesn’t. You think his deep-rooted problems are about to be spewed out and then they aren’t. Just when things are about to get maudlin, Snow moves on to something else. The paradox between Snow’s darkness and his almost child-like way of seeing things is nicely balanced and completely believable. Brand embodies the character so well that he doesn’t even seem to be acting.
Jonah Hill’s character and his performance aren’t quite as well done, but both are still very good. Once again, it would have been easy to make Aaron Hill a stock character straight man that gets completely manhandled. Or, it would have been just as easy to just let Jonah Hill play the usual mouthy asshole nerd character that he’s become famous for. Instead, the character is given some layers. While Aaron is a bit naive and fully unprepared for dealing with Aldous, he’s no buffoon. He’s looking to move up the ladder and he’s willing to do what it takes. He’s not a complete pushover, but he’s trying to be as nice to his hero as humanly possible is the situations he’s thrown into. It’s probably the most mature and level-headed character Hill has played and while he has a hard time meshing with Brand in some scenes, he mainly nails the role.
The star of this movie, however, is Sean Combs. Yes, I’m serious. Just like Russel Brand stole Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Diddy (or whatever the hell he’s called now) steals this film. So much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if there is some sort of discussion going on to make another spin-off movie about his character. Combs has been dabbling in acting for years now to mixed results, but his wheelhouse is obviously comedy. Whatever he does next, I hope he continues to get comedic work. He commits himself completely to the role and is obviously relishing every moment of it. He straddles a perfect line between almost over the top and slightly subdued. His comic timing is impeccable and his ability to play it completely straight while delivering absurd dialogue is brilliant. The film’s best scenes and best lines all revolve around him and when Combs isn’t on-screen, you’re saddened by it.
Not that I’m taking anything away from the rest of the film. It’s probably the most genuinely funny movie that I’ve seen this year. There are scenes that are borderline classic (Jeffery and the furry wall, I’m looking at you) and if Get Him To The Greek gains the cult following that I think it may, these scenes will get quoted like The Big Lebowski or Superbad are. The songs and videos from Snow and his ex-girlfriend Jackie Q (An unrecognizable Rose Byrne) are fittingly stupid and immature, basically always being euphemisms for sex acts. The dialogue is sharp and the jokes are never lazy. What’s nice is that the film never tries too hard. It gets raunchy, but never to the point of crassness. It gets over the top, but never completely unbelievable. Finally, when it inevitably gets to the sappy ending, it pulls back and doesn’t get that sappy after all. It shows some feelings, but it has no room for sentimental pap.
If I have any complaints, it mainly revolves around the subplot of Aaron and his struggling relationship with his girlfriend Daphne (Elizabeth Moss). Their conflict and how it comes about, doesn’t make a lot of sense. They’re supposed to be a committed, long time couple and both professional people. How these two would”break up”, spur of the moment, after a small and simple argument is sort of unrealistic. As is the their reconciliation scene later in the movie where Daphne is able to get some revenge while spurred on by Aldous. It’s reminiscent to the bizarre and uncomfortable scene that comes out of left field towards the climax of Chasing Amy. Overall, the entire Aaron/Daphne storyline kind of feels shoehorned into the film and it really adds nothing to the story or depth to Aaron’s character. The relationship between Aldous and Jackie Q plays out much better.
Overall though, Get Him To The Greek is a damn funny film that works and it’s one of the most quotable films I’ve seen in a long time. If nothing else, it’s worth seeing just to marvel at the work of Sean Combs. I don’t think I’ll be running out to see any more films that have the name Judd Apatow as writer or director, but if he’s the producer, I’m there.