TAGGED AS: Best and Worst
With this weekend’s Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, Seth Rogen continues a busy year that started with Kung Fu Panda 3 and will find him returning to theaters in just a few short weeks with the animated Sausage Party. In honor of all that activity — and a filmography that’s grown by leaps and bounds over the last decade — we decided to dedicate this week to taking a fond look back at some of the hardworking Mr. Rogen’s best-loved efforts. It’s time for Total Recall!
Unlike a lot of actors who end up starring in films or TV shows about high school students, Rogen was still just a teenager when he responded to the casting call for Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks. It turned out to be a fateful decision: landing the role of Ken Miller on the sadly short-lived series led to a productive friendship with Apatow, who offered Rogen a role in his follow-up show, Undeclared, and then absorbed him into his so-called comedic “frat pack” after that series also met an untimely end. For Rogen fans who want an early look at the future star in his formative years, Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared offer a glimpse of what was to come — and for the rest of us, it’s just really entertaining television.
The R-rated comedy went through some lean years in the 1990s and early 2000s, but by the middle of the decade, studios were willing to bet on grown-ups wanting to laugh again, and Judd Apatow — and, in turn, Seth Rogen — gave them plenty to laugh at, starting with 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Rogen plays second fiddle here, appearing as a pot-smoking friend and co-worker to Steve Carell’s titular paragon of chastity, but this is no ordinary supporting role — not only does he get some of the movie’s most memorable lines (including a particularly quote-friendly exchange with Paul Rudd’s character), but he earned a production credit on the film, showing some of the behind-the-scenes acumen that has helped make him more of a budding mogul than your average 26-year-old movie star. Whether or not people went to see it for Rogen, The 40-Year-Old Virgin was a huge hit, making more than $175 million at the box office, and critics enjoyed it too: The Globe and Mail’s Jason Anderson spoke for many of his peers when he wrote, “If only losing it was so good for everybody.”
Two years after helping Steve Carell break a 40-year streak of sexual inactivity, Seth Rogen played a character on the verge of a different sort of threshold — namely, fatherhood — in Knocked Up. The movie also presented a career Rubicon of sorts for Rogen; after playing a secondary character in Virgin, he moved into the ranks of unconventional comedic leading men with Knocked Up, starring opposite Katherine Heigl as the ambition-deficient half of a couple thrown together by the unplanned results of a one-night stand. It was Rogen’s fourth project with Judd Apatow, and the basic, seemingly effortless likability that the director had seen in his star since their Freaks and Geeks days resonated with audiences — to the tune of nearly $220 million in box office receipts — and helped earn Knocked Up some of the best reviews of the year. Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek was one of the many critics who found it Fresh, praising what she saw as “a picture that refuses to fetishize either the ability to conceive or the significance of our place in the universe once we’ve done so.”
It isn’t at all uncommon for high school buddies to daydream about growing up and making it big together — or for aspiring screenwriters to pen their first scripts before they’re old enough to vote. Most of them don’t have the patience to nurture an idea for over a decade, or the luck necessary to take your idea to the box office — but that’s exactly what Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg did with Superbad. Of course, it didn’t hurt having a pair of leads as buzz-friendly as Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, or being able to introduce Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the one and only McLovin — but Superbad‘s real strength lies in the way Rogen and Goldberg’s sweetly funny script blends honest moments with gross-out gags and absurdist humor (including a surreal extended cameo from Rogen and Bill Hader as a pair of spectacularly incompetent police officers). At 87 percent on the Tomatometer, Superbad received no shortage of love from critics like Roger Ebert, who pronounced it “A four-letter raunch-a-rama with a heart.”
After channeling the spirit of the 1980s teen comedy for Superbad, Rogen and his screenwriting partner revisited another of the decade’s favorite genres for Pineapple Express: the action buddy comedy. It was marketed as a stoner comedy, and while it certainly contained a fair amount of weed-themed humor, Express was essentially an homage to such squabbling-friends-in-peril classics as Stir Crazy and Running Scared — although it bears pointing out that none of those movies had the benefit of a brief, spectacularly profane appearance by Ed Begley, Jr. Critics weren’t unanimous in their support of the $101 million hit, which starred Rogen and James Franco as a ganja-loving process server and his dealer on the run from a lunatic crimelord — and the theme song, sadly, did not result in a “Back in Time”-sized hit for Huey Lewis — but most scribes agreed with TIME’s Richard Corliss, who deemed Express “A comedy that brings a nicely deflating note of realism to action-film mayhem, as well as being one of the few drug movies you don’t have to be high to enjoy.”
Cancer, generally speaking, isn’t all that funny. So kudos to screenwriter Will Reiser for finding the humor in his own diagnosis — and then using the experience as the grist for 50/50, a dramedy about a pair of best pals (played by Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt) whose relationship is irrevocably altered after one of them learns he has cancer. Director Jonathan Levine’s deft handling of the story’s tonal shifts keeps the movie from straining for laughs or straying into mawkish territory, while Rogen offers able support for Gordon-Levitt as the best friend of a guy who’s fighting for his life. “What ensues is Beaches meets Pineapple Express,” wrote Mary Elizabeth Williams for Salon. “Which, I’ve got to tell you, is pretty much what living with cancer is like.”
Although he’ll probably always be best known for his comedic roles, Rogen’s a fine dramatic actor when given the opportunity. Case in point: 2012’s Take This Waltz, a quiet look at domestic ennui from director Sarah Polley. Here, Rogen stars as Lou Rubin, a guy whose seemingly idyllic marriage to freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is knocked off its axis after she finds herself drawn to their neighbor (Luke Kirby). “In the end,” wrote Michael O’Sullivan for the Washington Post, “it’s a story of misplaced faith. In what? Not love exactly, but in the rush of infatuation, and the illusion that this feeling can be maintained, indefinitely, without crashing.”
We’ve seen plenty of movies about the end of civilization, but they’ve all focused on the apocalyptic problems of ordinary people while neglecting to imagine what those last few days on earth might be like for celebrities. Enter This Is the End, which imagines what it might be like if disaster struck Los Angeles while James Franco was hosting a house party. Featuring Franco, Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and Danny McBride — among plenty of others — playing fictionalized (and generally obnoxious) versions of themselves, it combines a fresh take on the apocalyptic comedy with the fun of watching movie stars make fun of themselves. As J.R. Jones argued for the Chicago Reader, “Their big joke is to literalize the Book of Revelations, but snaking around this is a biting contempt for the entertainment business, their own bad movies, and the social privilege these confer.”
Neighbors is built from an assortment of parts that will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever seen a snobs-vs.-slobs R-rated comedy — yet the sum total works anyway, thanks to the efforts of director Nicholas Stoller and an overall charming cast. Rogen and Rose Byrne star as Mac and Kelly Radner, homeowners who decide to fight back after their lives are made miserable by the occupants of the frat house next door (led by Zac Efron), setting off a suburbanite battle that manages to gleefully offend while remembering to keep its characters somewhat identifiably human. As Betsy Sharkey put it for the Los Angeles Times, “This raunchy unrooting of a settled suburban idyll exposes the considerable angst of emerging adulthood with a kind of scatological fervor designed to elicit oodles of inappropriate laughs.”
During the years following Steve Jobs’ death in 2011, the market was flooded with all manner of product devoted to analyzing the life and career of the Apple co-founder — to the point that, when Steve Jobs arrived in 2015, it might have seemed to many filmgoers like just another rehash of an already overfamiliar story. Which is unfortunate, because aside from its bad timing, this Danny Boyle-directed biopic has a lot going for it — including a script by Aaron Sorkin and an ace ensemble cast led by Michael Fassbender and supported by Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, and (as Jobs’ fellow Apple founder Steve Wozniak) Seth Rogen. “The dialogue crackles with wit, anger, and passion,” wrote James Berardinelli for ReelViews. “By matching Sorkin’s words with Boyle’s style and Fassbender’s talent, Steve Jobs has hit the trifecta.”