Despite loud huzzahs from film critics and an even louder cha-ching at the box office, it's likely, given their past derby track record, that Judd Apatow's and Seth Rogen's "Pineapple Express" will be laughed off by voters at the Oscars and Golden Globes, who also snubbed some of their reigning film comedies of this era, such as "Knocked Up," "Superbad" and "The 40-Year Old Virgin."
Enthusiastic reviews for "Pineapple Express" from the likes of Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times and USA Today's Claudia Puig boosted the score of the stoner comedy to 64 at Meta Critic and 69 with the top tier of reviewers surveyed by Rotten Tomatoes. And while the box office fell Thursday to half of the Wednesday gross of more than $12 million, expectations are that the film will give "The Dark Knight" a run for the money this weekend. Even with this combination of critical and commercial success, frat-boy films like "Pineapple Express" are unlikely to figure in any awards races outside of those put on by the likes of MTV and Nickelodeon.
Last year, "Pineapple Express" star and co-writer Rogen had the lead in "Knocked Up." That romantic comedy was both critically acclaimed (85 on Meta Critic, a jaw-dropping 97 with the top tier on Rotten Tomatoes) and hugely profitable (a $149-million domestic gross). Though Apatow landed a WGA nod for original screenplay (he lost to Diablo Cody for "Juno"), Rogen and his leading lady, the erstwhile Emmy-winning Katherine Heigl, had to make do with MTV Movie Awards nominations and the People's Choice award for favorite movie comedy. No Oscar notice and nothing at the Golden Globes, which have those separate categories just for laughers. "Superbad" — Rogen's other hit movie last year — raked in $121 million, scored well with critics (meriting 76 on Meta Critic and 86 with Rotten Tomatoes) but managed only five nods apiece with the MTV and Teen Choice kudos.
No doubt a similar kudos fate awaits "Pineapple Express," despite Ebert saying, "It's a quality movie even if the material is unworthy of the treatment. As a result, yes, it's a druggie comedy that made me laugh." As Puig points out, "Producer Judd Apatow excels at this sort of raunchy but good-natured post-adolescent tale and has wisely allied himself with smart, quirky filmmakers. Director David Gordon Green, whose last film was the somber character study 'Snow Angels,' shows a definite talent for gut-busting comedy."
Apatow won an Emmy in 1993 as part of the writing staff of "The Ben Stiller Show," a short-lived sketch comedy show, and was part of the producing team for perennial Emmy nominee "The Larry Sanders Show." He earned his first WGA nod for a 1998 script for that sly satire on TV talkers and his second for scripting "The 40-Year Old Virgin" with star Steve Carell in 2005 — the pair lost to the team who created best-picture winner "Crash." In between, he created two cult TV favorites — "Freaks and Geeks" in 1999 and "Undeclared" in 2001. "Freaks" featured Rogen in his acting debut. And it also showcased the up-and-coming James Franco. He would go on to win the 2002 telefilm acting Golden Globe for his riveting portrayal of "James Dean." Since then, Franco has made a string of films, mostly serious, mostly flops, save for the trio of "Spider-Man" movies, before showcasing his comedy chops in a change-of-pace role as the perpetual stoner in "Pineapple Express."
While Rogen and his writing partner Evan Goldberg wrote the "Pineapple Express" screenplay, with Apatow assisting on the story, the trio turned to an unlikely choice — indie filmmaker David Gordon Green — to handle helming duties for this comedy caper. Green's first film, "George Washington," a quiet little movie about children in a Southern town, won a prize from the Gotham crix and nods from the Indie Spirits for both screenplay and film in 2000. Green won a Sundance special jury prize for his second film, "All the Real Girls," in 2003. His recent efforts — "Undertow" and "Snow Angel" — followed in this vein, examining the lives of children in crisis, a world removed from this buddy comedy. While his first films got him noticed by critics and kudosfests, a hit like "Pineapple Express" is sure to get Green meetings with studio execs eager to make his next movie.
(Photo: Columbia Pictures)