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The New Comedy of the Sexes
October 6, 2007 10:31 AM   Subscribe

David Denby and Joe Queenan on Knocked Up and the new genre of romantic comedy.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear (89 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thank you for posting those articles.


Apatow is truly a hack.
posted by wfc123 at 10:52 AM on October 6, 2007


Are there any equivalent films with the genders reversed (ie successful male falls for loveable loser lady)?

Bridget Jones springs to mind, but then she was vastly more successful than the unemployed stoner portrayed by Seth in Knocked Up.
posted by JonB at 11:03 AM on October 6, 2007


Thanks for the reviews. Yeah, this theme of loser guy gets hot girl for unexplained reasons is an interesting turn for romantic comedies.

It's all kind of missing the point that Knocked up was funny and Superbad hilarious.
posted by callmejay at 11:04 AM on October 6, 2007


Yeah, I want to hear an argument for liking Knocked Up besides the obvious "Loosers of course like movies about another looser getting the cute girl".

Does anyone remember comedies from the eighties like Cant Buy Me Love where the nerd actually doesn't get the girl? You kind of figured already then in the movie that the guy would grow up and actually get a nice girl.
posted by uandt at 11:07 AM on October 6, 2007


1. Loser guys tend to have weekend nights free, so if they're not busy fragging in WOW, are available to attend the picture shows. These loser guys exist in large numbers, and have disposable income.

2. Make movies that caters to the fantasies of said loser-guys.

3. There is no three. go directly to 4.

4. Profit!
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:09 AM on October 6, 2007


I like romantic comedies where the nice guy gets the nice girl, but the world is conspiring against him and/or her. There's much more opportunity for humour that's not bodily-function focused, and plenty more chances for plot twists and superlative acting.

The articles describe pretty well why I hardly go to cinema at all anymore. Cary Grant was a role model, a hero; these guys today are nothing but losers. Why do I want to watch that?
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:13 AM on October 6, 2007


Former film critic here. Denby's piece made me wince and hock-ptui when I read it in the New Yorker, for many of the reasons Queenan sets forth. (I am not always a Queenan fan either, but here I think he's right on the money.)

Surely nobody is still wondering why fine actresses disappear over the horizon when they hit 45 -- crow's feet! zut alors! -- while grizzled scumbags like Jack Nicholson (As Good as it Gets), Mel Gibson (What Women Want) and Michael Douglas (too many to list) live on to get the hot young babe. Hollywood = boyzone Valhalla.

On preview: Queenan makes the point that The 40-Year-Old Virgin would never have been made if the titular character were a woman. Would Superbad? Or Knocked Up? Hot dude has drunken fling with wallflower and impregnates her, and she decides to keep the baby? The only way such a scenario could be resolved within the Hollywood paradigm would be a la Fatal Attraction. No way would we see the hot dude marry the chick and watch her morph into a full-fledged, confident woman.
posted by GrammarMoses at 11:13 AM on October 6, 2007


I just read that Denby piece last night! I'm so backed-up on my New Yorker magazines these days.
posted by ericb at 11:16 AM on October 6, 2007


Thank you for this. My ex-girlfriend expressed a love for these movies after she broke up with me. It made me wonder - am I working too hard? Am I too successful? Should I make myself into a slob, and stop exercising and playing sports?

These are thoughts I'd rather not have. I don't care about success, but to make myself completely unproductive, have no fun, and be physically unfit in order to 'fit in', sounds like a terrible life.
Especially when I get older.
posted by niccolo at 11:20 AM on October 6, 2007


Are there any equivalent films with the genders reversed (ie successful male falls for loveable loser lady)?

There was Friends With Money, but they guy in question inherited the money, got little screen time, seemed dorky himself; and Jennifer Aniston, while hardly beautiful in the Ava Gardner Movie Star kind of way, apparantly passes for such these days.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:24 AM on October 6, 2007


"Loser gets hot girl, for unexplained reasons."

This is just a slight variation on a long-standing theme in Hollywood movies that the hot girl always chooses the irresponible guy over the staid, stable guy: Hildy does NOT settle down with the accountant from Albany.

It's only a very fine line that separates 'attractive rogue' from 'hopeless loser'.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 11:29 AM on October 6, 2007


Are there any equivalent films with the genders reversed (ie successful male falls for loveable loser lady)?

A few months ago there was an AskMe about this very thing.
posted by iconomy at 11:34 AM on October 6, 2007


Thanks iconomy! The answer in that thread of Rushmore is a good one.
posted by JonB at 11:41 AM on October 6, 2007


It's only a very fine line that separates 'attractive rogue' from 'hopeless loser'.

No it's not. What separates these losers from someone like Cary Grant or George Clooney in Intolerable Cruelty is not a fine line. It's a fucking grand canyon.

Knocked up is nothing but a commercial for abortion to me.
posted by uandt at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Hot dude has drunken fling with wallflower and impregnates her, and she decides to keep the baby? The only way such a scenario could be resolved within the Hollywood paradigm would be a la Fatal Attraction. No way would we see the hot dude marry the chick and watch her morph into a full-fledged, confident woman.

Oh, you mean like an updated Pygmalion? Yeah, that would never happen, too far out to contemplate.

I have problems with some of Denby's ideas, but Queenan writes like an self-congratulatory undergrad trying to get laid in his Women in Film seminar. He's not even worth criticizing.

Denby's comparisons of Knocked Up and screw ball comedies are interesting, especially in comparisons to setting and equality. He misses the point about many of the female characters, I think, especially Debbie, with her monologue outside of the fantasy baseball house. I think he's right that's it not about the civilizing of desire, but I don't think it's entirely about the "growing-up" of the man (although it's a huge part of it) and the loosening up of the the woman (I don't think that's present in Knocked up at all,) but a small theme, at least in Debbie's case, of sublimination of desire, for good or for ill. She's not just the "shrew wife" character at all.

I also think that Denby makes a huge mistake in ignoring the role of children in the movie. For movies, that he says, are ostensibly about the drive to people the world, children are invisible in nearly all romantic comedies, and while they don't exactly overwhelm the film here, they are present enough to be relevant in the move. Pregnancy and children aren't just plot devices, but key in the movies point, which is not just about "growing up" and facing responsibility, but also finding joys in these more "grown-up" aspects of life.
posted by Snyder at 11:46 AM on October 6, 2007



Cary Grant was a role model, a hero.


The Cary Grant of The Philidelphia Story was a pampered, abusive alcoholic. The cary Grant of His Girl Friday was a manipulative, neglectful workaholic. The Cary Grant of The Batchelor and the Bobby Soxer was a wenching, irresponsible drunk. The Cary Grant of The Awful Truth ...

The difference between Cary Grant and Seth Rogan is fifty pounds and an awesome chin, not moral strength. These are romantic comedies, and Seth Rogan is fucking funny, just like Joe Queenan used to be before his elitist tendancies stomped over his wit (which happened a few years ago, much like it happened to PJ O'Rourke).

And if you think its unrealistic for Judd Apatow to make movies about ugly men having sex with hot chicks, look at a picture of him and his wife sometime. It's like Spike Lee filiming in Brooklyn.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:46 AM on October 6, 2007 [8 favorites]


Does anyone remember comedies from the eighties like Cant Buy Me Love where the nerd actually doesn't get the girl?

Ummm...no, because he did, actually, get the girl in the end. Remember the scene with them riding the lawnmower into the sunset and discussing their Saturday Night plans?
posted by ColdChef at 11:52 AM on October 6, 2007


but a small theme, at least in Debbie's case, of sublimination of desire, for good or for ill. She's not just the "shrew wife" character at all.

Let me clarify: Not that she just subliminates her desire, but it never occurs to her husband that she, too, wants to indulge herself like he does, sometimes, and that he is entirely unaware of that, assigning her to a "responsible mother role."
posted by Snyder at 11:58 AM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


And is this guy really cheering against the schlubby losers in modern films? J'accuse!

(Also, perhaps Ugly Kidd Joe would like to see a movie about a well-oiled machine of Little League non-losers who, against no odds, win the big game...yay.)
posted by ColdChef at 11:59 AM on October 6, 2007


Also: Tom "The Grin" Cruise falls for Lemony McLemonface Zellwegger in "Jerry McGuire."
posted by ColdChef at 12:02 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh yawn, the Knocked Up backlash is turning into such a pile-on that there's really nothing interesting left to add to it. Haven't we talked about this several times before? I personally thought it was a hilarious movie (and realistic in other ways, even if the Heigl-Rogen pairing was a bit far-fetched), and I'm not about to change my mind now that it's suddenly all cool to bash it.

I get the complaint, but come on people, it's just a goofy comedy movie. I think the great-girl-falls-for-loser-guy-for-no-apparent-reason thing is a bit more insidious when it's in movies that people take a bit more seriously - I liked that Queenan threw Sideways in there as an example, actually, because that was one thing that really bugged me about that movie. I would argue that Punch-Drunk Love should be put in that category too. I don't really get why High Fidelity counts, but then again I find list-making and music snobbery oddly attractive.
posted by naoko at 12:04 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Remember the scene with them riding the lawnmower into the sunset and discussing their Saturday Night plans?

Hmm, yes. But in my inner-minds version of that movie they were just friends sorta. I could be wrong though.

Now my loser firends are starting to trash my apartment. I'm pretty sure there will be no hot chicks for us tonight.
posted by uandt at 12:04 PM on October 6, 2007


OMGMALEFANTASY!!!

Clearly Queenan has never seen a sitcom.

Christ, or even The Simpsons for that matter...
posted by butterstick at 12:05 PM on October 6, 2007


I don't understand the animosity leveled at Knocked Up, more specifically, I don't understand how months after it hit the theaters, people are still bringing it up.

It wasn't the greatest movie ever, nor was it the worst. It didn't break a lot of new ground (other that one expected scene with a baby crowning), so what is it that gets people's dander so up?

*shrugs*

It made me laugh, but then, I've got a really low threshold for that kind of thing.
posted by quin at 12:09 PM on October 6, 2007


Are there any equivalent films with the genders reversed (ie successful male falls for loveable loser lady)?

Only like a million. I think the key here is to view them this way:

First we have the male gaze and the female gaze, by which the worth of each member of our society is judged. So take a good hearted character that fails the tests of the opposite gender's gaze, but somehow develops an interaction with a successful member of the opposite gender.

So interact, they have, problems they start to grow closer together then finally we have a scene where the character who failed to live up to the expectations of the female or male gaze finally submit's the the female/male gaze and becomes 'valid' in the eyes of our romance paragigm.

In movies about the male gaze the 'homley' girl takes off her glasses lets down her hair puts on some make up and transforms into a beautiful woman, thus submitting to the male gaze and validating herself as romantically worthy for the successful mate.

In movies about the female gaze the 'loser' boy stops investing himself so deeply in his friends, stops having irresponsibleness fun, increases his income and other signs of "maturity", thus submitting himself to the female gaze and validating himself as romantically worthy for the succesful mate.

So yes, there are about a million movies in this paradigm with the genders reversed.
posted by Ceci n'est pas une marionnette de chaussette at 12:09 PM on October 6, 2007 [11 favorites]


It's good to know that there are at least two film reviewers who are still not afraid to pan major releases- for fear of losing thier jobs to someone who will not.
posted by wfc123 at 12:19 PM on October 6, 2007


Are there any equivalent films with the genders reversed (ie successful male falls for loveable loser lady)?

There are a million of these, but the "loveable loser lady" is really the "princess in disguise." You can go as far back as Cinderella for this one. Or you can look at more recent romcoms (e.g. anything with Drew Barrymore or Sandra Bullock).
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:26 PM on October 6, 2007


Why should I glorify this with a reasoned response? I also like pudding, which is delicious but bad for me. Do I have to write a dissertation-style "In Defense of Tapioca" as well?

It was a funny movie. I laughed. My wife laughed. The characters were of course exaggerated, but the movie was funny because we both saw elements of ourselves in some of the characters. But we're smart enough and old enough to know the difference between real life, which should ideally mean something, and a movie, which is allowed to be merely entertaining. We went home and ate pudding.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:28 PM on October 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Regardless of concerns re: politics and misogyny, Knocked Up just wasn't very funny. Rogan and Heigl had no chemistry on screen, and it was completely unbelievable to me that she would fall for him. And that's not even because he's a chubby, unattractive loser; I just never saw any moment where they really seemed to connect, unless you count "hanging out a lot" as "falling in love." The stoner friends were paint-by-the-numbers losers, there were too many pop culture references, and most of them were weak and gratuitous (they made Family Guy look coherent by comparison), the Vegas sequence was bloated and completely unnecessary, and there was no character/actor strong enough to hold the film together. I like Seth Rogan, but he's far better in a secondary role; the guy is just not the right personality for a lead or even co-lead. The 40 Year Old Virgin worked because Steve Carrell is a great comedic lead, with a charisma and goofy charm that held all the improvisation and digression from the main plot together. Plus, he was silly and likeable in a way that made you root for him. I don't see why anyone would give a shit about Rogan's character in K.U. I mean, he's not repellent or anything, but it isn't like I really gave a damn if he got the girl or not (I also didn't really care enough about Heigl to care if she got the guy or whatever). Just abort the damn thing, why is this such a big deal?
posted by papakwanz at 12:47 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


All of the turds that Hollywood is shitting out these days and we're beating on Knocked Up?
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 12:53 PM on October 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Even if you don't like the 40-year old virgin and Knocked Up, you can't call Apatow a hack, I don't think. Freaks and Geeks was and is brilliant.
posted by empath at 1:09 PM on October 6, 2007


Nicollo: "Am I too successful? Should I make myself into a slob, and stop exercising and playing sports?"

Trust me. That doesn't work. Except in Hollywood.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:12 PM on October 6, 2007


I'm so backed-up on my New Yorker magazines these days.

Fiber pills are easier.
posted by dhartung at 1:15 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


The existence and popularity of Hot Chicks with Douchebags is enough, I think, to illustrate that many people are indeed troubled by the notion of hot chicks with douchebags. When we gaze all Nietzsche like into the abyss of our own souls -- or, in my case, into the abyss of an apartment that is in desperate need of cleaning, and contains entirely too much pop culture ephemera for my own good -- are we not also troubled by the unshaven, bleary-eyed, sheepishly grinning, foul-breath-emitting face of the Douchebag Within? Perhaps. Perhaps. Is this backlash just a denial of a call to embrace and even love the moronic dipshit, or a denial of a call to embrace and even love the moronic dipshit within us all -- something that would maybe be better off beaten savagely to death with a shovel and interred at a crossroads? Are we not angered perhaps most of all by an implicit message that we would all be happier were we to abandon ambition, drink more beer, watch more shitty TV, and degenerate into troglodytic overgrown child versions of ourselves -- to, in essence, give up all hope for the future in favor of sinking into a morass of mediocrity and juvenilia? Have we, without knowing, perhaps already done this very thing?!

This is a lot to grapple with. I'll be able to think about it a little better after a few games of Indestructo Tank. Excuse me.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:26 PM on October 6, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oh man, that Denby piece is painful to read through. Anyway...

Saying that there is no female-equivalent to these male-centric romcoms is completely disingenuous. It's not like Sandra Bullock and Jennifer Lopez vehicles depict relationships that are any more plausible than Knocked Up. Perhaps less so, since a quick skim of this questionable subgenre -- with luminaries like Two Week Notice and Maid in Manhatten -- shows many of these films having the homely girl bagging the rich, handsome hottie. At least The 40-Year Old Virgin didn't place any ridiculous class demands on Catherine Keener.

The modern romantic comedy, at least the ones described here, are definitely not comedies of equals. Which is why, when you place most of the genre under close scrutiny -- gender, class, race, whatever -- heterosexual relationships look downright depressing.
posted by Weebot at 1:33 PM on October 6, 2007


The Hiegl character seems as if she makes enough money to support them both. Who needs more? I thought feminism was about more symmetry in the way men and women pursue careers. What about Pretty Woman or all the romantic comedies before the women's movement when the female lead wasn't bringing in an income? It's bizarre to read critics so angry that a guy doesn't have the trappings of desirability. How exactly is the Hiegl character suffering by having a house husband?
posted by Schmucko at 1:42 PM on October 6, 2007


I'd just like to sidetrack a bit and mention that George Cukor's Holiday, which receives a nod in the middle of Denby's list of "screwball classics," is one of the best romantic comedies of all time: poignant, ludicrously witty, and sincere. (It also boasts Lew Ayres being charming, Cary Grant being even more charming, Katharine Hepburn sending Ayres and Grant to charm school, and the immortal Edward Everett Horton making it rain charm).

On reflection, it's also something of an ancestor to the slacker romedies under discussion. Cary Grant plays Johnny Case who, as an exception to Bookhouse's rule, is kind, considerate, and something of an innocent; it's one of the few Grant roles that you could also imagine Jimmy Stewart taking. Case has come up from middle class origins to do very well in finance; he's attracted the attentions of a daughter of privilege and seems all set to become one of the pillars of the society of "enormous New York apartments" and "country houses with porticoes" that Denby rhapsodizes about.

Which leads to the title problem: after he makes enough money, Case wants to leave off of work and take a long holiday of the soul with his girl and his impoverished academic friends - a complete rejection of the female gaze (and social) standards that CNPUMDC described.
posted by Iridic at 1:53 PM on October 6, 2007


I despise David Denby. This is the guy who told us (in *Great Books*) that a conservative education in the classics of Western Snivelization would make us morally strong, and then proceeded to have the life-collapse detailed in *American Sucker* -- addiction, gambling, greed, all of it. Who takes him seriously? He doesn't know a thing about film, either.
posted by spitbull at 1:59 PM on October 6, 2007


hows many of these films having the homely girl bagging the rich, handsome hottie.

Pfft. By what standard is any Hollywood actress who plays the lead in any romantic comedy anywhere close to unattractive as the guy in Knocked Up? Anyone?

(crickets)

Yeah, I thought so. "Homely girl" in Hollywood is only "extremely hot woman in glasses and frumpy hair, that she quickly sheds."

And the Cinderella types aren't even that--they're just hot chicks in maid outifts.

Show me a fat, ungroomed woman playing the lovable lead who gets the hot guy in a major Hollywood flick...and I'll show you the nice new ice-skating rink in Hell.
posted by emjaybee at 2:00 PM on October 6, 2007 [6 favorites]


PLATE OF ROMNANTIC COMEDY
posted by basicchannel at 2:13 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is the guy who told us (in *Great Books*) that a conservative education in the classics of Western Snivelization would make us morally strong, and then proceeded to have the life-collapse detailed in *American Sucker* -- addiction, gambling, greed, all of it.

Yeah, kinda like that blowhard GOP moralist Bill "The Book of Virtues" Bennett and his gambling shenanigans.
posted by ericb at 2:16 PM on October 6, 2007


Responding to papakwanz's point: the scenes with the friends were easily the most realistic and funny parts of the movie.

The stoner friends were paint-by-the-numbers losers, there were too many pop culture references, and most of them were weak and gratuitous

My guess would be that you don't have any stoner friends.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:19 PM on October 6, 2007


"Romnantic" comedy would probably involve polygamy, wouldn't it?
posted by emelenjr at 2:21 PM on October 6, 2007


And if you think its unrealistic for Judd Apatow to make movies about ugly men having sex with hot chicks, look at a picture of him and his wife sometime. It's like Spike Lee filiming in Brooklyn.

So true! He actually looks like the small kid from Freaks and Geeks grown up. And this flame-war conversation with the dude who made that 70's show, (as mentioned in that piece), is also hilarious.
posted by stratastar at 2:42 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's a bit ambitious to call the movie misogynistic. The loser/geek aesthetic is many things but it's entirely lacking any kind of serious principled framework that might actually devalue women. 'Knocked Up' and its ilk take nothing seriously but cheap sentiment and the internet thereby withdrawing themselves from the realm of criticism. These movies are pure kitsch for all the many young things who imagine themselves to be too smart for kitsch. In many years people will look back on such movies and be embarrassed by how painfully self-conscious and earnest such films are in their little hopes. Unplanned pregnancies as a Say No To Drugs Ad -- heh, the stuff would be funny if it wasn't so sincere. But it's not surprising, though it is a bit touching, that so many critics would be so easily swayed by Apatow's earnestness, sincerity, and good ol' American wholesomeness. It just confirms that many of these cool cats ought to be writing about sports or reviewing automobiles but they lack the talent to do that well so they end up writing about cinema.
posted by nixerman at 2:44 PM on October 6, 2007


Men are generally attracted to looks. Women are generally attracted to perceived power. As such, romantic comedies coming from the male perspective feature a regular guy who lands some gorgeous woman. Romantic comedies coming from the female perspective feature a regular woman who lands some powerful man. I imagine that men often write the former, and women the latter. Apatow seems to follow this rule.
posted by flarbuse at 2:47 PM on October 6, 2007


I couldn't even finish the preview. Does she commit suicide or just get an abortion?
posted by Brian B. at 2:55 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Queenan's article seems to be just an obvious piece of contrarianism. He may genuinely dislike the movie Knocked Up, but his contention that this represents a dominating new paradigm of romantic comedy is bogus.

Apatow and his company of players are enjoying a good run at the box office and with critics but they are not the only game in town. I have to say I did find Superbad hilarious though much more so than Knocked up.
posted by electricinca at 3:22 PM on October 6, 2007


Didn't see the movie, but walked by the theater this summer. The marquee said:

KNOCKED UP
NANCY DREW

I kinda wanted to see that movie.
posted by MtDewd at 3:24 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Snyder: Oh, you mean like an updated Pygmalion? Yeah, that would never happen, too far out to contemplate.

Dude. Pygmalion is the opposite of male humbling. The svengali/tightass falls in love with his own handiwork. And the only way the story can work and feel truthful is if she rejects him in the end (as Shaw knew and Lerner and Loewe -- or their paymasters -- refused to accept).

Ceci n'est pas une marionette: In movies about the male gaze the 'homley' girl takes off her glasses lets down her hair puts on some make up and transforms into a beautiful woman, thus submitting to the male gaze and validating herself as romantically worthy for the successful mate.

In movies about the female gaze the 'loser' boy stops investing himself so deeply in his friends, stops having irresponsibleness fun, increases his income and other signs of "maturity", thus submitting himself to the female gaze and validating himself as romantically worthy for the succesful mate.


How far we have come from the days of courtly love, when a man felt he had to actually earn the favor of his fair beloved. Now all he has to do is clean up the beer cans, take a shower and get a damn job. Not a very convincing argument for equivalence there. What happens if, even after she takes off her glasses, etc., she's still not beautiful?

Weebot: a quick skim of this questionable subgenre -- with luminaries like Two Week Notice and Maid in Manhattan -- shows many of these films having the homely girl bagging the rich, handsome hottie.

What emjaybee said.

nixerman: Unplanned pregnancies as a Say No To Drugs Ad -- heh, the stuff would be funny if it wasn't so sincere.

Excellent point. Nancy Reagan would approve: no abortion, no drugs, one big happy family. [cue birdsong] With luck, some take-no-prisoners comedian will mine this for laughs in the not-too-distant future.

Really, it's just as mawkish and sentimental as that ultra-conservative meme/theme "any loser can be redeemed though the love of a good woman."
posted by GrammarMoses at 3:37 PM on October 6, 2007


I was amused by "Knocked Up" but also had some problems with it. The lack of chemistry between Heigl and Rogan bugged, as well as with how paper-thin all the characters were, Heigl's in particular. But maybe Heigl's character didn't have it so bad after all. At least the movie wasn't about her needing a bully to swoop in to save her from her own life choices.

I read the Denby piece after seeing "Knocked Up" and ended up renting "It Happened One Night" and "His Girl Friday." I really did not like either of these vaunted romantic comedies.

In "It Happened One Night," Clark Gable isn't much of a prize - he's an unemployed, alcoholic hustler. Also, I could see nothing much wrong with Claudette Colbert's supposedly spoiled character and didn't really think she needed "educating" by Gable's strong hand. I felt bad for her -- so desperate to get away from her father's domineering ways that she would first get engaged to an ineffective lout, and then run right to a condescending brute.

"His Girl Friday" was even worse. Rosalind Russell's character apparently has a choice between a normal man and life and no job, or being allowed to keep her job by going back to her manipulative, neglectful bully of an ex-husband. Her complete submission to his world view is demonstrated in the last few moments of the movie when she caves on her last small dream - a normal honeymoon.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a completely satisfying romantic comedy and therefore am not much of a fan of the genre. My husband loves 'em though.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:44 PM on October 6, 2007


I see where Queenan is coming from. I agree with those who say women who even start descending to Seth Rogan's unattractiveness don't get in movies, period. But I would not call Rogan's character wholly unappealing. Women are raised as insecure as they have ever been, and the Rogans of the world offer them psychological security the Leading Men never could.

Where the Cary Grants and George Clooneys leave women swooning with their smiles and charm and nice hair, the very level of their attractiveness renders them aloof and unattainable. They're a fantasy, a dream that doesn't work in real life. Realistically, do the vast majority of American women have the self-confidence in their looks and personality to go on a date with Harrison Ford and not feel uncomfortable and worried they're not good enough? They are a "catch", but threateningly so. You'd always be worried about the wrinkles on your face, whether the dress looks nice enough, and can you really disagree with him or will he find a more pliable, prettier, younger model?

Seth Rogan's character does not have those washboard abs and can't tango, but the woman who is dating him knows he's not judging her. He's a person, not a romance novel's leading hero. Hey, she might even be the best-looking lady he's ever had! She feels comfortable with him--hot little black cocktail dresses are nice once in a while, but Rogan is the equivalent of slipping into a pair of your favorite yoga pants and taking a nap. He's down-to-earth, funny, approachable, and while he's got his foibles he will change them because he wuvs you sooooo much. It's a nerdy teddy-bear charm that's unique from the dude who will sweep you off your feet and take you to Jamaica for a weekend.
posted by schroedinger at 3:53 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


how paper-thin all the characters were, Heigl's in particular

She was on-air talent for E! -- by that standard, the character was much more fully developed than most of the real-world equivalents.
posted by aaronetc at 4:49 PM on October 6, 2007


Yeah, this theme of loser guy gets hot girl for unexplained reasons is an interesting turn for romantic comedies.

It's not that weird. The world is full of loser guys who need hope, or if that fails, fantasy fuel.

No it's not. What separates these losers from someone like Cary Grant or George Clooney in Intolerable Cruelty is not a fine line. It's a fucking grand canyon.

No. It's just looks. If you're a handsome guy, asshole behavior makes you 'deep' and 'complex', if you're homely, it simply makes you an asshole. Don't give the world too much credit.
posted by jonmc at 5:41 PM on October 6, 2007


(also, this whole discussion springs from people clinging to the cherished cultural myth that women are somehow less superficial and looks-obsessed than men)
posted by jonmc at 5:43 PM on October 6, 2007


jonmc, didn't you know? Women go for power, men go for looks! It keeps being said, so it must be true. Because no man ever latched on to a rich, powerful woman. And no woman ever married a hot but broke man.

Speaking of shallowness, I, personally, am a fan of Sheelzebub's Tuesday Lechery. Rarr. I do not know who Ioan Gruffudd is and I don't care, but I wouldn't mind seeing more pictures of him doused with water.
posted by emjaybee at 6:25 PM on October 6, 2007


Are there any equivalent films with the genders reversed (ie successful male falls for loveable loser lady)?

Pride and Prejudice.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:00 PM on October 6, 2007


Trust me. That doesn't work. Except in Hollywood.

This guy's life disconfirms your thesis.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:09 PM on October 6, 2007


This guy's life disconfirms that guy's thesis. =P
posted by ZachsMind at 8:26 PM on October 6, 2007


Superbad hilarious

Um... which part? I thought this movie was utter shit. I saw it with a half full theatre and you could count the LOLs on your fingers.

Hollywood's output these days is utter shit... except for the truly wonderful Michael Clayton, which I saw last night. It was so intelligently made I almost came. Finally a movie that doesn't think its audience is idiots.
posted by dobbs at 8:49 PM on October 6, 2007


Freaks and Geeks was and is brilliant.

I missed this comment before. Is this a joke? Do you really think a show devoid of laughs and conflict is brilliant? Mind you I only watched two hours of it (the first two) but I thought this was as shit as Superbad and 40 Year Old Virgin.
posted by dobbs at 8:53 PM on October 6, 2007


I'm not sure I've ever seen a completely satisfying romantic comedy

I recommend Woman of the Year.

Denby was right on, IMO. Despite the moral shortcomings of the screwball comedy heroes, they were -- and this is important -- the intellectual equals of the heroines (who also had moral shortcomings, I must point out). And yes, it's happening all around me in real life, and yes, I'm tired of the message that somehow a less-accomplished and less values-driven guy is what a successful woman needs to counter her focused, rigid, empty lifestyle. This reeks of nothing but discomfort with female self-determination.
posted by Miko at 9:11 PM on October 6, 2007


First we have the male gaze and the female gaze

That was an awesome comment, so in light of that, I think the puzzle is:

Why was a movie viewed from the female gaze created by an all-male production team? And why is that movie more popular and accepted among males than among females?

It was a funny movie -- I'll say that first, because the fastest way to condemn a woman's point of view is to accuse her of having no sense of humor. I laughed, I teared up, it was very well done and very funny. But in discussing the movie, it seems that a lot of women feel a noticeable discomfort with the embedded messages, while a lot of men seem to take it as an amusing depiction of the way they really see gender relations today. We clearly aren't the audience -- men are. Why have men adopted the female gaze as the lens through which they'd like to view themselves?

I don't know - I think Apatow's working in a liminal space where we're not sure what's up ahead. A couple recent media pieces on "dating down" have attemped to explore the phenomenon of women partnering with less accomplished men -- I find them a little classist/consumerist in their focus on income and spending opportunity, but there's definitely something going on here. Can men and women expect relationships in which each partner is mutually respectful and equally accomplished intellectually and socially? Is it what we want? Does our definition of "success" satisfy our common human needs for satisfaction, belonging, self-determination, and respect?

Apatow is at the center of these discussions because he's asking those questions.
posted by Miko at 9:24 PM on October 6, 2007


dobbs: You're not the only one. I've to watch it twice and have only made it 15 minutes in. And I liked American Pie. Even Road Trip was a much better film than Superbad.

The kid who just talks crassly about women is not funny. He's awful and he's real. The film is pathetic.

Perhaps comedy just isn't that great in films. Good TV series can be funnier, because they can develop characters so that you can get a good feel for why what they are doing or saying is funny. Films are really quite short. 88 minutes is hard to really make people laugh, sure, there have been successes, but there are many, many more failures.

If you want to laugh; Black Books, The IT Crowd, The Simpsons, Futurama, Seinfeld, Kath and Kim and The Chaser are a much, much better bet than the latest dismal Hollywood attempt at comedy.

If you want explosions and excitement, Hollywood is the place to go.
posted by sien at 10:29 PM on October 6, 2007


I've been thinking about this thread all day. I sincerely dislike Apatow. Yet, I was worried that my dislike of him was baseless.

However, after considering the idea all day, including seeing a film by highly sexual and real video artist Paul Wong, I have come to the conclusion that Apatow creates alcohol fueled romps through a scientific civilization (ours) that was created by geniuses but peopled by morons.

In Knocked Up, the characters stand on the shoulders of giants. They have no respect nor fascination for the details that make our modern world possible. They might as well live in The Matrix!
posted by niccolo at 11:03 PM on October 6, 2007


It's a bit ambitious to call the movie misogynistic. The loser/geek aesthetic is many things but it's entirely lacking any kind of serious principled framework that might actually devalue women. -- nixerman

Since when does misogyny have to have a principled or conscious framework in order to thrive? The insidiousness of such beliefs is that they infiltrate all levels of culture, whether it be throw-away pop culture jokes or political structures.

the scenes with the friends were easily the most realistic and funny parts of the movie.
[...]
My guess would be that you don't have any stoner friends.
-- Greg Nog

I'll grant you "realistic" but not "funny." The two do not have to go together. And no, I don't have any stoner friends anymore precisely because they all tend to be the kind of moronic paint-by-numbers losers that were featured in the film. They are boring and tired in real life, and they are even more so when I'm paying $9 to see them on screen for 2 hours.
posted by papakwanz at 11:10 PM on October 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Miko: where do you get the idea that Knocked Up was from the perspective of the female gaze?

I would argue that even the supposedly female-oriented romantic comedies mentioned in this thread position the viewer perhaps as a female, but as a female constructed along lines acceptable to a male-dominated society. "Female agency" as such is pretty watered down.
posted by papakwanz at 11:15 PM on October 6, 2007


"Do you really think a show devoid of laughs and conflict is brilliant? Mind you I only watched two hours of it (the first two) but I thought this was as shit as Superbad and 40 Year Old Virgin."

Freaks and Geeks, devoid of laughs and conflict? Wha...? Are you sure you were watching the same series I was?

Of course, it wasn't the kind of laugh-out-loud laugh-track comedy you might have been expecting -- more the rueful chuckle sort of thing. And sure, I am probably biased in that the series was about kids in high school in 1980-1981, when I was in high school, so I was predisposed to like it. But, damned if they didn't get just about everything right, right down to the Steve Martin poster on one of the geeks' bedroom wall.
posted by litlnemo at 12:57 AM on October 7, 2007


On misogyny in Hollywood, this recent report by Nikki Finke is quite disturbing:
Warner Bros president of production Jeff Robinov has made a new decree that "We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead". This Neanderthal thinking comes after both Jodie Foster's The Brave One (even though she's had big recent hits with Flightplan and Panic Room) and Nicole Kidman's The Invasion (as if three different directors didn't have something to do with the awfulness of the gross receipts) under-performed at the box office recently.
posted by Rhomboid at 1:33 AM on October 7, 2007


Isn't Resident Evil 3 doing well currently?

In recent memory, films like Nancy Drew, Catwoman, Elektra, Wrong Turn, Becoming Jane, Descent, The Nanny Diaries, and a host of other films tend to support this misogynistic view among network executives, but they're just reacting to box office returns.

People show up at a DieHard 4 or a Rush Hour 3 more readily than they will the sequel to Tomb Raider. Executives can't attribute that to quality. Gender seems a more obvious answer. We're talking about people who are essentially gambling their money on the next blockbuster. They wanna break even, and films with women in the lead don't seem to do so as readily as films with men in the lead.

Of course, there's Miss Congeniality which did tolerably well. There's the Legally Blonde films. One could probably cite five films that bombed with men in the lead for every one female lead film. I'm not saying I agree with the chauvinists in Hollywood. I just understand where they're coming from. They are looking for a sure thing to gamble on, and right now it doesn't look like women are cutting the mustard.

I don't blame execs for that. I blame the audience.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:06 AM on October 7, 2007


I always regarded the nerd-pursues-popular-pretty-girl plotline to be a repulsive, unconvincing, and rather pathetic symptom of Uncle Tomism among the GPA conscious. Sure, in the movies they always turned out to be sensitive and witty but, I mean, come on... that's like having the bad guy in a crime thriller turn out to be the a millionare so that you don't have to spend the entire movie showing white cops beating the shit out of poor black suspects. I say take your cheerleaders and shove 'em up your ass, Hollywood. They always wore too much makeup and hairspray anyway.
posted by Clay201 at 4:37 AM on October 7, 2007


Show me a fat, ungroomed woman playing the lovable lead who gets the hot guy in a major Hollywood flick...and I'll show you the nice new ice-skating rink in Hell.

It sure ain't Hollywood, but Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul comes close. Frumpy sixtyish German cleaning lady hooks up with Turkish immigrant twenty years her junior and then marries him.
posted by jonp72 at 6:59 AM on October 7, 2007


If we have to take Knocked Up seriously (do we?), I still think people are getting it wrong.

First, in the logic of the movie, Heigl ins't supposed some kind of uberfraulein. In important ways she's just as much a loser as the Seth Rogen character, if admittedly cuter. She's a grown-up crashing at her sister's house, with a completely insipid job (third-string E! teleprompter reader) where she is treated like a piece of meat by the executives (played by Kristen Wiig and some other guy). Her choice to have a child with and partner with (marry?) a socially unacceptable guy vindicates her autonomy and self-determination.

Second, the movie makes an effort to show why Heigl might give the Rogen character a shot. Her sister made the conventionally correct move in picking a good-looking and high-earning husband (the Paul Rudd character) and nevertheless is totally miserable. You can't count on a man to make you happy even if he checks all of society's boxes -- that's some kind of feminist message.

Finally, the notion of Rogen's spectacularly troll-hood is a bit overdone. He's a schlub but he's only really fat or ugly in Hollywood terms. They make pains to point out that he's 23: lots of people can be bums at 23 without being bums at heart. Bottom line, this movie doesn't break any ground in comedy-romance pairings of Hollywood-ugly with Hollywood-hot.
posted by MattD at 7:45 AM on October 7, 2007 [3 favorites]


Yeah, kinda like that blowhard GOP moralist Bill "The Book of Virtues" Bennett and his gambling shenanigans.

Worse than that- he hired the magnificently named John Cribb to dig up and collate the many stories that make up The Book of Virtues, then put his own name on the cover.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:50 AM on October 7, 2007


Are there any equivalent films with the genders reversed (ie successful male falls for loveable loser lady)?

One archetype of chick fiction seems to be the fantasy of upgrading from an inferior mate to a superior one. There's generally some kind of guilt heaped upon the inferior male to rationalize the change (e.g. he's unromantic, he's cowardly), but the heroine usually winds up with taller, darker, handsomer, and more successful, and ideally without ever addressing the moral question of treating boyfriends like products in a catalogue.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2007


Her choice to have a child with and partner with (marry?) a socially unacceptable guy vindicates her autonomy and self-determination.

Was it about choices? Irreversibly, the producers chose pregnancy as their little Macguffin. That's a loaded wagon. In the poverty worldview, women choose between public whores or private servant wives, which always entertains the poor male dominant fantasy. By limiting her choices in the film they catered to the third-world view that would own her.
posted by Brian B. at 9:23 AM on October 7, 2007


(Do I smell beans?)

I liked these movies. Judd Apatow is the furthest thing from a hack that Hollywood has, let alone comedic Hollywood.
posted by Reggie Digest at 9:31 AM on October 7, 2007


(Do I smell beans?)

Whether the film should be served with beans is the question.
posted by Brian B. at 9:35 AM on October 7, 2007


Didn't see the movie, but walked by the theater this summer. The marquee said:

KNOCKED UP
NANCY DREW


My favorite ever, spotted on a marquee in 1989:

LICENSE TO KILL
PETER PAN

(How strangely appropriate, now that I think of it...)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:32 AM on October 7, 2007


Miko: where do you get the idea that Knocked Up was from the perspective of the female gaze?

I don't get that idea - I was responding to this comment. I don't think the movies reflect a "female gaze" at all. Instead, I think it's pretty ancient trope in which the supposedly superior nature of a woman (and her innate uprightness and goodness) saves a man from self-destruction and imbues his life with meaning.

And to suggest that a show host for E! isn't a very lucrative, difficult to get, and career-move sort of a job is to be unaware of the reality of the television industry. The female lead's isn't a character going nowhere.
posted by Miko at 12:13 PM on October 7, 2007


Miko: where do you get the idea that Knocked Up was from the perspective of the female gaze?

I don't get that idea - I was responding to this comment. I don't think the movies reflect a "female gaze" at all. Instead, I think it's pretty ancient trope in which the supposedly superior nature of a woman (and her innate uprightness and goodness) saves a man from self-destruction and imbues his life with meaning.

And to suggest that a show host for E! isn't a very lucrative, difficult to get, and career-move sort of a job is to be unaware of the reality of the television industry. The female lead's isn't a character going nowhere.
posted by Miko at 12:14 PM on October 7, 2007


has everybody missed the idea that celebrating your own loserdom is the most punk-rock thing in the world, and that complaining about a guy not being 'refined' or 'ambitious' enough to 'deserve' the pretty girl is a very yuppie stance to take?
posted by jonmc at 12:21 PM on October 7, 2007


And god forbid a physically attractive woman should be anything but a superficial bimbo who cares only about looks and money.
posted by Reggie Digest at 12:44 PM on October 7, 2007


This was seriously one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. I couldn't stop laughing. If you haven't seen it, it's a must-see. It just came out on DVD.

By the way, if you aren't signed up for Blockbuster's total access program, I would do it. We've been members of it for six months now, and it's 10 times better than Netflix.
posted by LarryGDVD at 1:35 PM on October 7, 2007


By the way, if you aren't signed up for Blockbuster's total access program, I would do it. We've been members of it for six months now, and it's 10 times better than Netflix.

LarryGDVD -- what do you think of Pepsi Blue?
posted by ericb at 2:32 PM on October 7, 2007


I kind of agree with Queenan. Although, I don't think Knocked Up is that bad, mainly because Seth Rogen is a little bit endearing and very young; and for the reasons MattD stated. Worse is the movie Sideways. I found the Paul Giamatti character utterly repellent. It seemed completely unrealistic for someone as bodacious as Virginia Madsen's character to go for him. She was beautiful and kind and was working on becoming a sommelier, so she had a future. Miles was just a jackass and a whiny one at that.

Where are the movies where the geeky girl gets a good guy? (not just settling for one that (when he's away from his loser friends) wants to be good) Where are the ones that aren't Jane Austen derivatives (like Bridget Jones)?
posted by bluefly at 2:34 PM on October 7, 2007


Dude. Pygmalion is the opposite of male humbling. The svengali/tightass falls in love with his own handiwork. And the only way the story can work and feel truthful is if she rejects him in the end (as Shaw knew and Lerner and Loewe -- or their paymasters -- refused to accept).

Where did you say anything about male humbling? I don't see the connection to what you said before. In any event, the film version and My Fair Lady, while not true to Shaw's ending, and probably being weaker, is, I think, humbling, simply because he, at the end sees Eliza as a person, not a automaton, and realizes his change in perspective, and realizing that one is wrong is often humbling. In any event, it's not a point I'll argue to the death over.

How far we have come from the days of courtly love, when a man felt he had to actually earn the favor of his fair beloved. Now all he has to do is clean up the beer cans, take a shower and get a damn job. Not a very convincing argument for equivalence there. What happens if, even after she takes off her glasses, etc., she's still not beautiful?

Courtly love is a lot of crap. I gave up trying to "earn the favor" of women when I was 16, because it's retrograde and ultimately materialistic, and that I was more interested in self-improvement anyway. I dislike any film that has either half of a romantic pairing jump through hoops to earn the approval of the other, I didn't like it in One Fine Day, and I wouldn't like it in Knocked Up if Seth Rogan's character had to be her economic and physical equal in order to be worthy of, or deserve, her. I find that idea, promoted by Queenan and others in this thread, while obviously not misogynistic, is sexist, as if women exist on tiers that only men of certain quality may aspire to, as if they are prizes for conforming to society's ideals, and as jonmc says, yuppie.

I think people are also incorrect on the reasons of Rogan's character's reasons for self-improvement, he is not redeemed by the "love of a good woman," but by his accepting responsibility of fatherhood. He does not move out of his house and get a real job to impress her, considering that they have been estranged for months, but to prepare for the eventuality of a child. They show him putting up a baby's room and finally reading those baby books.

And, as a quick aside for the critics of the film who just happen to bring up abortion as some sign that the movie is all right-wing or that Heigl's character is a slave or whatever, that's almost as politically as fucked as anti-choice zealots are. It's possible for a woman to decide to keep a child in non-obviously ideal circumstances and not have it be some political message, except if any given decision about abortion is a political act that favors one side or another.
posted by Snyder at 1:06 AM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


It bothers me that so much of this conversation seems to put the Heigl character on a much higher plane of human worth simply because she is physically attractive. But the movie is misogynistic?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:10 AM on October 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


> celebrating your own loserdom is the most punk-rock thing in the world <
It is punk rock - totally.
However, Losers are not survivalists, they're not fighters, they're not strong. (If not, how could they be losers?) My anger against loserdom is that, maybe, the losers don't deserve to survive. Taxes allow for losers to exist and to compete with the survivors.

Does a revolutionary fight for losers?

Is anybody really a loser?

Does any of this have anything to do with lust and love?
posted by niccolo at 11:07 AM on October 8, 2007


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