The 10 Best Judd Apatow Characters

The 10 Best Judd Apatow Characters

Jul 16, 2015

Trainwreck may be written by Amy Schumer, but the film slides right into the canon of director Judd Apatow, sharing many of the same themes and concepts as his previous work. Once again, here's a tale of a lovable loser who learns to grow up and embrace family and responsibility. Of course, she does so with the help of a colorful cast of characters who could easily be the subject of their own films.

And that's always a constant with Apatow's work: every character, no matter how small, leaps off the screen. They feel all-too-real, even when they're being uproariously funny. Trainwreck includes a number of great characters, but do any of them make the list of the 10 best characters in Judd Apatow films?

Read on and find out.



The Actor: Eric Bana

The Film: Funny People

Why He's Great: In the United States, Eric Bana is known for playing brooding, dramatic characters with dark, torturous pasts. In his native Australia, he's known for his comedy. Judd Apatow taps into both sides of him in Funny People, where he plays a lovable goofball who finds himself betrayed by the woman he loves. It's not a major roll, but it's a vital one. Even when he's at odds with our heroes, Bana makes Clarke real and relatable and lovable.



The Actor: Colin Quinn

The Film: Trainwreck

Why He's Great: Loudmouthed, uncouth fathers are a comedy staple, but they have rarely been portrayed as humanely and honestly as Gordon. Trainwreck doesn't sidestep the fact this slightly racist, slightly homophobic, sleazy guy is a total jerk, but it also never forgets that he loves his kids and they love him. He's not a nice man, but he's an interesting one, a man you genuinely want to spend more time with. This character could have been one-note, but Amy Schumer's screenplay, Apatow's direction, and Colin Quinn's performance make him a character to savor.


Sadie and Charlotte

The Actresses: Maude Apatow and Iris Apatow

The Films: Knocked Up and This is 40

Why They're Great: It may be slightly unfair to loop these two into one entry, but they're a team and there was no way we could split them up. Apatow casting his own daughters in two of his films may reek of hubris, but pays off. These girls are laugh-out-loud funny, holding their own alongside experienced actors and comedians in every scene. And maybe because they're his own children, Apatow isn't afraid to treat them honestly. Yeah, they're cute, but they're also the perfect blend of coarse and cute and endearing and annoying. Just like real kids.


Ben Stone

The Actor: Seth Rogen

The Film: Knocked Up

Why He's Great: Seth Rogen had been around before landing the lead role in Knocked Up, but this is the movie that made him a star and established the "Seth Rogen" character he has so effectively played for the past nine years. Ben Stone is, in may ways, the typical "lovable slob" who spends two hours learning how to grow up, but he just-so-happens to be played by one of the most endearing comic actors in recent memory. The usual Rogen tropes are here, but they all work. This is the essence of Rogen, captured and put on display. He's tried plenty of new things since this movie, but this is our first, best look at one of the most talented minds working in comedy today.



The Actress: Catherine Keener

The Film: The 40-Year Old Virgin

Why She's Great: Catherine Keener elevates every movie she's in and Apatow showcased tremendous taste by casting her as the female lead of his first movie. In most rom-com set-ups, Trish would be the woman who exists simply to "fix" Steve Carell's Andy, but she's so much more than that. Trish is her own woman, a single mother with a complex life and a personal story that extends beyond the scenes she shares with the lead. Most importantly, she's allowed to be just as funny as the boys.


George Simmons

The Actor: Adam Sandler

The Film: Funny People

Why He's Great: Most sane people will agree that Adam Sandler's filmography has been in rotten shape for well over a decade, with the once-promising actor collecting paychecks for truly reprehensible garbage. Apatow twisted our perception of Sandler by casting him in Funny People, where he played a once promising comic who sold out for a career of starring in hacky, high-concept comedies. The role presents Sandler at his most self-aware -- George Simmons is obviously based on him and his performance is raw. It's telling and sad that Sandler when right back to making his usual schlock after Funny People. Perhaps things got a little too real.



The Actor: Amy Schumer

The Film: Trainwreck

Why She's Great: It would have been easy to make Amy just another entry in Apatow's long line of "slobs who turn their lives around thanks to family and love," but Amy Schumer is so much more than Seth Rogen with a vagina. There are equal amounts of frankness and femininity present in this character. She's funny and vulnerable, frustrating but relatable. Most of the characters in Apatow's films register as three-dimensional, flawed human beings, but Amy is powerfully real. We tend to fall in love with movie screw-up because they're charming. We fall in love with Amy because we understand what makes her tick and recognize that charm as the armor she wears to protect herself.



The Actor: Paul Rudd

The Films: Knocked Up and This is 40

Why He's Great: Paul Rudd was great before he started playing major roles in Apatow's films, but these were the movies that transformed him from a well-kept secret to one of the most likable screen presences ever. Rudd captures a tricky balance as Pete. He's sardonic but honest and detached but lovable. You want him to be your best friend, even though you know he'd probably spend the bulk of your time together making fun of your haircut or wardrobe. Rudd has made a career out of making you adore him despite everything he does on camera and that love is never stronger than right here.



The Actress: Leslie Mann

The Film: Knocked Up and This is 40

Why She's Great: There's an unfair stigma attached to Apatow's films. They're "guy movies" where the women get the short end of the stick, playing nagging housewives and shrews. And while his early films do tend to place the focus on male characters, his movies have always had strong female support. Leslie Mann's Debbie is the heart of Knocked Up and This is 40, taking on the moral compass who always fights to preserve her family (and her sanity), even if it means being "the bad guy." The immature response to this character (as evidenced by plenty of half-baked thinkpieces) is that she's a stereotypical wife character who exists solely to ruin the boys' fun. The truth is that she's there to provide a sane, balanced counterpoint to the childish actions of the main characters. Unlike the men who get their faces plastered across the posters, she's the real hero. It helps that Leslie Mann is just as funny as the men she's cutting down to size. 



The Actor: Steve Carell

The Film: The 40-Year Old Virgin

Why He's Great: The greatest trick that The 40-Year Old Virgin pulls off is that its title character isn't a total joke. Sure, he's funny. That's what you get when you cast Steve Carell. But he's never the butt of the joke. The movie never makes fun of him. It empathizes with him. Cares for him. Roots for him. In Carell's hands, the character of Andy isn't some pitiful loser -- he's a deeply sympathetic, lovable guy with a problem. The humor comes not from him being a middle-aged virgin, but from the various misadventures he goes on because his friends decide to help him out. It's a concept that still feels revolutionary: comedy that stems from empathy, not cruelty. 


Categories: Features, lists
Tags: Judd Apatow
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