Vulture

Skip to content, or skip to search.

the take

‘Knocked Up’ Brings the Gender Wars Back!

Courtesy of Universal Pictures


So, it didn't escape our notice that among the few voices in the wilderness who didn't unabashedly love Knocked Up are several critics who had problems with the treatment of women in the movie. Slate's Dana Stevens and the Los Angeles Times' Carina Chocano both wrote smart reviews riffing on this topic, and we spent much of our Slate podcast (MP3) with Stevens debating the point.

(Our take: Though we agree that the men in Knocked Up were somewhat better-drawn than the women, we found everyone in Knocked Up so much better-drawn than the characters in any other comedy that we didn't mind. We would love it, though, if Judd Apatow — rather than co-writing his next movie with Seth Rogen or Steve Carrell or, whoever, Haverchuck — co-wrote something with, say, Amy Poehler. Or Tina Fey. How great would that be?)

This morning New York editors Emily Nussbaum and Adam Sternbergh debate Knocked Up IM style, in adorable pink and blue name fonts, as befitting the gender-related questions addressed in the debate. Has Knocked Up brought the gender wars back? We can only hope so!

Adam: So, I hear that you were underwhelmed by Knocked Up. Which leads me to ask the question: Are you allergic to joy? Are you a Communist?
Emily: I love joy. I also love Freaks and Geeks; it's one of my favorite shows. And I am a Communist.
Emily: I also adore The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It was completely hilarious and deserved every great review. Therefore, I love much of the work of the Great Praised Judd Apatow and his puppet, the delightfully fuzzy Seth Rogen. Who is Canadian.
Adam: Yes, indeed, he is.
Emily: However, I did not adore Knocked Up. So sue me.
Adam: I won't sue you. But I am sad for you.
Adam: Sad for you and your tiny, tiny heart.
Emily: Ah, condescending pity. The pure expression of the joyful free-market enthusiast, I see.
Emily: Tell me about your love for the movie!
Emily: So that I may puncture it with my needle of sourness.
Adam: Perhaps I can preemptively address some of your concerns.
Adam: Unlike many people, I was in no way put off by the idea that super-hot, swanlike Katherine Heigl would be attracted to/fall for Seth Rogen.
Adam: Any more than I couldn't believe Meg Ryan would fall for Billy Crystal.
Adam: Or any other romantic-comedy pairing in the history of cinema.
Emily: I buy that she'd boink him.
Adam: Judd Apatow deserves all the praise he's been getting for seamlessly — and kind of magically — interweaving comedy and drama in a way that makes other comedies and directors look clumsy and kind of inept.
Adam: I swear that one of my first thoughts after this movie was "Wow. The people who made Wedding Crashers should be really embarrassed right now."
Adam: And I thought this movie was better than The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Emily: Oh, my god.
Emily: You're so high!
Emily: Okay, so my critique:
Emily: Alison made basically zero sense. She was just a completely inconsistent character.
Adam: But hot.
Emily: For the first two-thirds of the movie, she was this pleasant, blandly hot, peculiarly tolerant, yet oddly BLANK nice girl.
Emily: She seemed to have no actual needs or desires of her own…
Emily: and she sort of glided into this pregnancy, assumed from there that she should try to make a go of it with Rogen, and hung out benignly smiling at his stoner buddies. She was nice, but she was also dull and strangely spineless and free of actual character traits…
Emily: especially considering that she was supposedly this ambitious young Hollywood babe.
Emily: Then, two-thirds of the way through, she transformed into a humorless shrieking irrational person like her sister, totally incapable of even listening to the most normal comments on his part…
Emily: like when he said that when he'd first heard about the pregnancy, he fantasized about running away. It was clear she'd felt the same way; why was she so offended?
Adam: I found her neither as bland in the beginning as you say, nor as crazy near the end.
Emily: I just didn't believe in their romance. Also, she kind of depressed the hell out of me, because she was neither funny nor interesting, merely nice or irrational (depending on the chronological point in the movie)…
Adam: Compare it, say, to Wedding Crashers
Adam: which I don't mean to pick on
Adam: except that's what passes for a quality comedy these days.
Adam: A movie with a jerk-him-off-under-the-table scene.
Emily: And to me, the idea that men are fun goofballs and women are shrieky or kind of pleasantly cipherlike is just upsetting.
Adam: If you think about it, Seth Rogen is the one who undergoes a rather complete transformation
Emily: Sure, he does.
Adam: it's him who the movie points to and says, "You need to change."
Adam: Not the shrieky women, necessarily.
Emily: But why should Katherine Heigl change? She's barely a person.
Emily: She seems to have no dreams of an actual relationship she'd want to be in.
Adam: But I think the choices she makes — to have the baby, to try and make something work with this weird stoner schlub — aren't signs that she's a badly written character — they're clues to her character.
Emily: I just found it hard to get onboard for their coming sad marriage.
Emily: It kind of bummed me out compared to The 40-Year-Old Virgin...
Emily: where Catherine Keener was this great, odd, idiosyncratic character with a whole life of her own…
Emily: and frankly, even Wedding Crashers, where whatshername, that Canadian lady, had her own prickly and dark humor to match with the lead guy.
Adam: But is it somehow more believable and honest to you that Rachel McAdams would fall for Owen Wilson than that Katherine Heigl would fall for Seth Rogen?
Emily: Yeah, it did feel more honest.
Adam: Or that Rachel and Owen's coming marriage would be less sad than Heigl and Rogen's — when their whole relationship is built on PLAYING PATTY-CAKE ON THE BEACH?
Emily: I mean, Wedding Crashers had its own contrivances, but I saw real chemistry there and joking back and forth.
Emily: Here I saw bemused acceptance on her part and amazement on his that a pretty lady would sleep with him and this kind of (to me) creepy excitement about Children Bringing on Maturity.
Emily: And bear in mind, I have a kid.
Adam: But it sounds to me that you didn't like Knocked Up because it depressed you — its vision of male-female relationships
Adam: which again doesn't sound like the same thing as saying the movie is bad or failed in some way…
Emily: But that whole notion that reproducing grows you up seems really problematic to me.
Adam: simply an objection to the ideas that the movie pushes forward
Adam: And isn't it nice to be talking about a movie that makes you laugh for two hours and about which you can also say "ideas it pushes forward"?
Adam: It's funny, because you seem to have come away from it thinking it's a movie preaching that all women are shrieking harridans and men are lovable layabouts
Emily: No, no, no. The movie clearly knows the layabouts are flawed, but it's totally in their camp, for good reason: They're funny! And this is a comedy.
Adam: While I had the opposite reaction: that Apatow is gently nudging a generation of layabouts toward something like adulthood.
Emily: Well, if that's true, it would annoy me. That this would be adulthood.
Adam: To be fair, I was also swayed by the 40 or so trailers for other comedies before the film
Adam: such as — God forbid — License to Wed
Adam: and Game Plan with the Rock
Adam: and a bunch of other doo-doo that was basically a twenty-minute precis on the sad state of comedy in Hollywood.
Adam: But I have A.O. Scott AND Lisa Schwarzbaum on my side, which means I win.
Emily: And I usually love both of them!
Adam: This reminds me of when I was like Jeremiah in the ash cloths trying to convince everyone that Million Dollar Baby was a terrible sham of a film, and they were all like, No, it's great!
Emily: I know! It was so sad.
Emily: And impressive, since you actually donned ash cloths.
Adam: We shall agree to disagree.
Adam: In the grand tradition of the IM chat.