Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Robert Downey Jnr, Zach Galifianakis, Michelle Monaghan
words | Steve Lawrence
Whether it’s a man going on holiday to Hawaii to get over his ex, an immature guy getting a girl way out of his league pregnant, or two teenagers on a quest for sex and beer, the high concept R-Rated comedy has been dominated by one man and one man alone – Judd Apatow.
Whether directing his own work or producing with his long established team of writers, directors and actors including Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and Jonah Hill it has long been Apatow who has received the credit for reviving this once dormant genre. Yet, there has been another director who’s been operating alongside Apatow and though not achieving the same level of fame has been drawing the same kind of crowds. This director’s CV includes Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch, Old School and most importantly the film that currently holds the title of the highest grossing R-Rated comedy of all time – 2009’s monster hit The Hangover. That man is Todd Phillips and this month he returns to our screens with Due Date. With The Hangover star Zach Galifianakis on board can he produce another monster hit and this time usurp Apatow from his throne?
Much like Phillip’s last hit Due Date revolves around a quest. The Hangover involved a search for a lost groom, and this features an aspring actor (Galifianakis) and an expectant father (Robert Downey Jnr) on a mission to travel across America to be in time for the birth of the latter’s child. The trailer promises a traditional odd couple duel with Downey as the straight man and Galifianakis channelling the same weirdo vibe that made him such a standout in The Hangover. Normally I like to scold actors for repeating themselves and refusing to leave their comfort zone (Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy) but Galifianakis has such a fun and unpredictable energy that I’m happy for more of the same. His great strength is a kind of vulnerability that lets him get away with things like date raping the other main characters without losing the audience’s sympathy. He has a cute dog with him too which in my book is always a big plus. I’m also very pleased with the casting of Downey Jnr. Although he has in the years since Iron Man established himself as a leading man and box office draw, I think he’s underrated as a comedic actor. He dominates Tropic Thunder as a controversial blacked-up method actor and it’s the wit that he injects the character of Tony Stark with that helped Iron Man blast his way onto the hero A-List in the first place. The cast is rounded up by an interesting mix of comedic and mainstream actors including Jamie Foxx, Juliette Lewis and Danny McBride who are sure to provide roadblocks on the duo’s journey.
It’s not a strikingly original concept (See Planes, Trains & Automobiles) but in the end it all comes down to the execution. The trailer opens with a scene of Downey’s character bearing his soul about his messed up relationship with his own Father. Phillips builds audience expectation but then completely undercuts it as Galifianakis laughs his head off and talks about the great relationship he had with his Dad. This more pronounced dark side marks one of the major differences between Phillips and Apatow. This can be traced back to Phillips’ earliest documentaries but can also be seen in Phillips’ more mainstream offerings such as the failed marriage and emotional regression of Will Ferrell’s character in Old School. Phillips has so far managed to succeed where so many others have failed in distinguishing his work from Apatow’s. His movies feel different and somehow fresh where others in the genre feel derivative. This has been achieved by skewing traditional set-ups and placing the interaction of his characters in an all together more difficult part of the emotional spectrum. As a huge fan of both directors I’m happy there’s room for both of them in the crowded Hollywood marketplace. It’d just be nice to see Phillips getting more credit for his role in the revival of this type of film. Maybe some of the Apatow imitators could become Phillips imitators instead.