I’m going to begin with a caveat here: I like Judd Apatow’s movies. They make me laugh. And part of me feels a little sorry for him, as it seems he’s maxed out his cool outsider cred as of late and is now veering into the territory of the overexposed love-t0-be-hated. But.
I also confess that I agree with one of main criticisms sent his way: while the men in his movies tend to be funny and lovable, the women tend to be unfunny–and frankly, a little shrewish. But I’m willing to grant him a little latitude there; he is, after all, a guy, so I guess it stands to reason that he approaches his work from a (guy’s) guy’s perspective. And there’s something else, too. I think, in their way, the differences between the men and women of his movies reflect one of the defining differences of today’s real-life young men and women: the ways in which women struggle so desperately with the choices they face, that men just don’t.
DoubleX’s Lael Loewenstein touches on this, in her piece “Apatow’s Women Have to Face Up to Reality,” when she mentions a scene from this summer’s Funny People, in which Laura (played by Apatow’s real-life wife, Leslie Mann), debating leaving her husband for her old flame, puts him to the test: she plays video of their daughter’s recital, gauging his reaction all the while. As Loewenstein put it:
What Laura wants in a prospective partner–and what George fails to provide–is validation for the choices she’s made. To a woman who’s opted to sacrifice her career so she can have a family, George’s disinterest in Mabel’s performance is especially painful: it’s tantamount to personal rejection. …What the women of Knocked Up and Funny People share is a certain ambivalence and anxiety about their life choices, as well as an acute awareness of their responsibilities. [They] are constantly reminded of their sacrifices. …the message is plain: If you think you can have it all, sister, you’d better think again.
And think again we do. Again and again and again. While the men are busy riding out the remains of an on-the-fly Vegas/mushroom trip gone wrong, the women are left home, to deal with their responsibilities, and to agonize. And that is a sentiment that’s easy to relate to.
And I think that’s where Apatow gets it really, painfully right. And that’s why I’m willing to tolerate the unfunny portrayals–because I recognize the angst behind them. For women, our choices are more wrenching because to get them at all was the prize of a long, hard-fought fight–in a word, valuable–and now that we have them, and have had them long enough to realize that ‘having it all’ is basically a myth, there’s a certain heartbreak that comes with picking. And heartbreak is never very funny.