Why Seth Rogen deserves a bit more respect
With comedy drama 50/50 out in UK cinemas this Friday, Chris explains why the talents of actor and writer Seth Rogen deserves a bit more appreciation...
Does anyone remember Paul Feig’s sensational but sadly short-lived television show Freaks And Geeks from 1999? I thought not. In fact, it’s amazing just how few people in the UK have heard of the show, produced by Judd Apatow, which brought us such talent as James Franco, Jason Segel and the comedian at the centre of this article, Seth Rogen.
Since his humble days in Vancouver, Rogen has become one of the most recognisable and prolific faces in American comedy, starring in an abundance of features as well as writing and producing. He is renowned for his unusual laugh, often crass and blue humour, and joins Jay and Silent Bob and Cheech and Chong as a loveable stoner. Yet still so many people dislike Rogen and his breed of humour.
I’m here, then, to explain why you should pay more attention to him, and why his talent seldom gets the respect it deserves.
Like every actor, Rogen has appeared in some lesser movies – the disappointing Green Hornet, and mall security mess Observe And Report, for example - but apart from the odd misfire, Rogen’s filmography is something worthy of celebration.
Pictures such as Knocked Up really showed audiences his range – admittedly, his character is a stoner who spends his time entering nudity in feature films into an online database, but his performance as Ben Stone enabled him to provide comic relief as well as emotional depth. When he gets Katherine Heigl’s Alison pregnant, Rogen’s character eventually faces his responsibility as an adult – a satisfying arc for a protagonist with a little more nuance than you might expect in a bawdy comedy.
And who can honestly moan about the terrific Superbad, which Rogen and co-writer Evan Goldberg had been writing since the tender age of thirteen, and was finished by the time Rogen was fifteen? Although it’s slightly worrying that two people of such a young age could write such a potty-mouthed and sexualised script, its transition to screen was strong and truly made Rogen a star.
I remember watching the picture in the cinema feeling utterly breathless with laughter. Despite Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse being the feature’s primary focus, the movie’s stars are Officer Michaels (Rogen) and Officer Slater (Bill Hader). The drink-driving, trash-talking and thrill-seeking cops parade around the streets with McLovin and a homeless guy shooting signs, reminiscing about past wives and rather beautifully, running from other cops.
And while we're here, Zack And Miri Make A Porno is much funnier that it's given credit for.
But it’s not just Rogen’s performances that warrant praise – his voice-over work in animated features is also strong. Characters such as B.O.B in Monsters Vs Aliens (surely among the better recent DreamWorks animated films, alongside the wonderful How To Train Your Dragon), and his hilariously rude alien in Paul are memorable and fantastic characters that exemplify Rogen’s abilities, even if he doesn’t physically appear on-screen.
Unlike some other popular American comedians working today, Rogen’s movies aren’t malicious, nor are they sexist, no matter how extreme the dialogue may be. His pictures have ethical grounding, and that is most likely down to Judd Apatow’s presence on the majority of his CV.
It’s frustrating, I’d suggest, that actors like Adam Sandler (who worked with Rogen and Apatow on the slightly disappointing but ambitious Funny People back in 2009), whose work is sometimes quite mean-spirited, appear to enjoy greater box-office success than Rogen.
After all, Rogen has shown, and continues to show, that he's willing to take a risk. Funny People and Observe And Report are bold choices in themselves. And then there's Rogen’s latest film, 50/50, in which he plays Kyle, the best pal of Adam (Joseph Gordon Levitt), a young man struck by a rare type of cancer. It's a movie that further demonstrates his charm and sincerity as a performer.
Granted, the film features some quite rude gags, but it is also incredibly moving. Both Gordon Levitt’s and Rogen’s portrayals are naturalistic, believable and emotive – a sterling achievement, given that the latter is too often dismissed as a player of lazy stoner-type characters.
It would be wrong to call Rogen a divisive comedian, because his pictures don’t always divide audiences, but for those who have doubts and mixed feelings towards him, I advise that you go and see 50/50 when it comes out on 25th November in the UK – you may just have a change of heart, and realise that Seth Rogen is one of the finest comedy actors currently working in film.
You can read our review of the fabulous 50/50 here.