Thursday, August 14, 2008

Knocked Up (and Down) Women
and the Men Who (Maybe) Love Them

I must first apologize for the long-ass delay in posting. Believe it or not, I've been doing more blogging than ever the past two weeks, just not on this site! (Yes, vague statement. Hopefully I will be able to clear it up for you, dear readers, very soon).

A few months ago, I watched Knocked Up, Judd Apatow's offensively endearing movie about pregnancy. Heard of it? My boyfriend and his roommate were big fans, along with just about every other guy I've ever met, so I figured since I had labeled myself as a "cultural critic," I had better engage with this thing. Prior to my viewing I had heard Knocked Up described as everything from "offensive" to "sweet." And granted, yes, I had read some of the reviews, which were fairly bipolar However, I will say that my beloved Jezebelles really loved the movie, especially Moe.

My own bias prevents me from seeing Katherine Heigel's character as a real person since she never fully weighs the pros and cons of keeping her baby. (So Moe, I disagree). I understand that as a plot device, maybe Apatow doesn't have the writing chops or the time to give Alison the "holy shit what the fuck do I do now I don't even know this guy" panic sequence. Instead, she takes a pregnancy test, tells her sister and mom about being with child, and when her mother asks if she's thought about aborting it, simply replies, "No." Juno, which I haven't seen, is probably even worse about this sort of thing: a woman resigning herself to the swell predicament she's found herself in.

I have an issue with films that treat pregnancy as just the "TERMS" (forgive the puns) of women's lives. Sure, women get pregnant. Shit happens. They also have abortions. Not all of them do. And I'm all for women who decide to keep their babies. Hell, I promote the survival of the human-race, and you know what? I love babies. I love looking at them, I love holding them, I love making faces at them, and I kind of want to have a lot of them eventually. That said it's hard for me to believe that there are women (aside from very religious ones) who DON'T EVEN CONSIDER the possibility of abortion, especially if they are independent, and want a career.

And aside from those issues, there are a whole lot of vagina jokes in Knocked Up that I just find a) stupid, and b) stupid, oh and c) not funny. But then again, I'm the girl who hates dead baby jokes and period jokes. Dear God, if you are reading this right now, please strike down any male who makes a period joke with ULTIMATE MENSTRUATION for the rest of his life. Then we'll see who's laughing.

When I told my boyfriend I "hated" Knocked Up he was surprised. "But you were laughing!" he said. "I saw you!" his roommate said. Yeah, guys. I was laughing. Then I went home and I thought about what the hell I would do if I found myself in the same situation, and generally about the way men and women function and what they want out of life and things suddenly became very serious.

The women in Knocked Up struck me as shrill shrews. Especially Debbie, who is constantly complaining that her near-perfect husband Pete (played by the delicious Paul Rudd) isn't giving her what she needs. Pete is a great Dad. He might not be a great husband, but he's also a DUDE. Since when are dudes great husbands? In fact, since when do men make "good" husbands? Do we know any? If so I'd really like to hear about them.

Cause here's the thing I've realized: Men don't make good partners according to women. And that's because women and men are so crazy different that there's no way in hell a guy would ever do exactly what you want him to do 100% of the time unless he was telepathic and he loved you enough to go out of his way to make you happy. Some guys are capable of the second option, but clearly not all the time. Which makes women upset. In turn, we become SHRILL. Maybe not all women are like this. Let me hear from you if you aren't so I can bottle your DNA and study your brain to figure out how to be more like you.

So, yeah. The women in Knocked Up are emotional and they are shrill. Because women are that way. And it isn't as if the men come off any better. They're fat, lazy, stupid, and almost completely non-functional across the board. I think guys like this movie maybe because it makes them feel a little better about themselves: especially if they weren't the most popular jock at the sock hop.

But there are some brilliant fucking moments in this movie. When Debbie discovers that Pete, her husband, isn't actually cheating on her but instead is running off to play fantasy baseball with his friends, she's still upset. You know why? Because she just wants to be included in his decisions, in his life. He says he went to see a movie without her because he didn't think she would like his choice of film. She responds by saying she just wants to be asked even if she ends up not going. I can't think of anything more beautiful than this exchange: it communicates the fundamental difference between men and women. Men need to do their own thing and feel like they have no obligations (even if its achingly apparent that they do), and women need to feel like men care about them and consider their feelings (even if they don't).

Later, when the guys are in Vegas together, acting like assholes, they realize (with the help of shrooms) that they really don't deserve the love of these awesome women who for some crazy reason want to be with them despite their insane loser-dom. Even if Debbie and Alison are still, emotional, and pregnant (in Alison's case), their dudes somehow find a way to suck-it up and stay the course. And that's pretty cool. Because if you really love someone, you deal with the fact that they might get pissed if you forget to call and check-in.

So, Knocked Up isn't perfect. But neither are we.


JanelleGrace said...


But if you look at any of Judd Apatow's movies/shows, his girls are never very good characters. But neither are his guys.

It's just what people are.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU! It's about time someone stood up and asked why these women (Juno and Alison) don't fully consider the abortion option. I realize that these characters staying pregnant pretty much make these two movies, but seriously? It's hard to believe that a high school student and a successful career woman would just resign themselves to being pregnant, kind of like "oh well, let's do this thing."

Women have abortions everyday and it's a difficult and personal decision and I think that these women aren't seen on film enough. I think a honest portrayal of a woman deciding to have an abortion is in the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where Jennifer Jason Leigh's character finds out she's pregnant, asks the father to pay for half of the costs (which he doesn't even fucking do!), and goes and has it done. End of story, she goes on with her life.

This isn't a pro-life/pro-choice debate, but at least represent the stories of women who do choose to have abortions (for a myriad of reasons) and let them get some screen time as well.

Shit, that was unintentionally long, but this topic just irks me.

Snobber said...

janelle: yes. i am all for idiocy, but it has to be widespread. no double standards allowed!

anon: thank you so much. i'm glad to know it irk-ed you, too. i think the lack of abortion consideration doesn't frighten men nearly as much as it frightens me. especially in context of her character (this is where i think juno becomes more frightening). abortion and pregnancy are two huge issues in a woman's life, and i don't think the consideration of both should ever be neglected, whether the film is a comedy, or not. (great ref to fast times!)

Bookhouse said...

"Men don't make good partners " Hehehe, yeah, that sounds about right.

I do think the film would have been better served has Alison not been such an obvious foil, and they shouldn't have tried to simply use a more uptight sister as a way to lessen her uptightness. Ben's the complete loser who happens to be less unattractive than his friends, and it doesn't take as much stiffness as they put into Alison to make the jokes and the story work. She is kind of cool in the film, but she really should have been the coolest person in the film.

And no, we don't give enough weight to the issue of abortion as men, and we spend way too much time letting the issue become something it is not. The issue is far to thorny to be a simple political battle. Sarah Weddington has mentioned on two occasions that I've chanced to hear her speak that the primary motivation to pursue the case was the rising number of deaths of young women due to hastily and illegally performed abortions.

Then of course, there is the issue of the current administration attempting to redefine birth control as an abortive measure, which is an entirely separate realm of social ineptitude and inhumanity.

(Great post by the way!)

fakebook said...

i haven't seen 'knocked up' but i didn't like 'superbad' so i don't feel like i missed out on anything. a while back, david denby had an interesting essay on 'knocked up' that contrasted the new crop of romantic comedies and the older generation's take on the battle of the sexes. he presented 'knocked up' as the apotheosis of a new trend films in which the men don't quite measure up to the women (and the women, in turn, get dragged down by their immaturity).

you sort of raise an interesting aesthetic problem: whether a romantic comedy can effectively present the abortion question as a realistic option. could it be done? or would it even be in good taste? (or has it been addressed before that i'm not aware of?)

i'm curious as to what you thought of '4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days'.

kat said...

I enjoyed watching this movie the way that I enjoy watching Disney Princess movies -- for entertainment, and with a healthy suspension of disbelief. So your analysis of the "Debbie discovers her husband at fantasy baseball" scene is really interesting to me, particularly the idea that it expresses some fundamental truth about relationships between men and women. In my opinion, this scene - and particularly Debbie's reaction - was the most infurating thing in the entire film.

Her wounded, I-just-want-to-be-included shtick is, indeed, predicated on the idea that "Men need to do their own thing and feel like they have no obligations... and women need to feel like men care about them and consider their feelings." But I think this idea is inherently flawed, because it treats men as individuals and women as archetypes. The problem isn't that her husband wants to go do his own thing; it's that he's completely oblivious to the possibility that his wife has the same need, and that she should be considered. Instead, he leaves her holding the towel, not just under the false pretense that he's doing something selfless (i.e. working to provide for the family), but without ever thinking that he ought to reciprocate. In his eyes, what he's doing is legitimized by that idea -- that These Are His Needs As A Man, and that those needs are at odds with Her Needs As A Woman.

Of course, it's not his fault: he doesn't see Debbie as having a character outside the boundaries of Shrewish Wife, because the film's writers don't give her one. I think her reaction to his duplicity is the ultimate example of this-- she finds out that her husband sees her not as a person, but as a real-life version of the skirted symbol on a restroom door, and her reaction is to be... hurt?

I can't speak for anyone but myself, of course, but my reaction to this situation would not be "hurt". I'd be furious. And then, I'd be gone.

Snobber said...

i agree, the alison character was so stilted. i can't tell if it was the script or katherine heigel, but whatever it was it didn't work.

i don't expect men to be as aware of the importance of abortion, but in a movie about pregnancy, i don't see how you can completely avoid the topic.

i haven't seen 4 Days . . . although i really, really want to. i heard great things about it. i'll have to netflix it. what did you think? as for a comedy about abortion? citizen ruth, by alexander payne.

pink india ink:
i wasn't trying to say that the debbie/pete interaction is good-in fact, the "i need space / well, i don't" problem is something all couples face, and i don't think it necessarily falls along gendered lines, either. what do you mean by "stead, he leaves her holding the towel, not just under the false pretense that he's doing something selfless (i.e. working to provide for the family), but without ever thinking that he ought to reciprocate." Reciprocate what? Do you mean to say that Pete should tell Debbie, "I'm going to play fantasy baseball, you should go do your own thing, too?" I'm not sure anyone is capable of being aware of their partner's needs 100% of time, and I for one, didn't think Debbie's reaction was shrewish! I thought it was genuine, and heartfelt, and I think it was played that way. Unforunately I just think men and women are too different to lose their shit and give up on their marriage because one person wants to play fantasy baseball. I think making it works takes a whole lot more sacrifice (on both parts) than that. But then again, I'm not the one getting married, so you tell me!

fakebook said...

thanks for the tip. i'll check out the payne movie.

i'm looking forward to your review of '4 months...' i found it absolutely astonishing, as a visual feast (the long takes are breathtaking) and for its poignant realism. it was on par with my favorites from last year: 'there will be blood' and 'diving bell'. it was a great year for movies. this year? thus far, not so good.

kat said...

Oooh, I just saw this. And I don't think your interpretation of this is at all wrong, just interesting when (as a nearly-married person) I took something so totally different away from it. What do I mean by "reciprocate"? Pete operates under the assumption that his greatest need is to have some Manly Alone Time, while his wife's greatest need is to Be With Him. Which, within the confines of this movie, is true; that is her greatest need. But that's what I found so infuriating. It's been awhile now since I saw the movie, but I think that Pete's "work commitments" were taking him out of the house several nights a week -- leaving his wife to shoulder the not-inconsiderable load of childcare/housework that results from his absence. His big unilateral decision has a major effect on her life, and he deprives her of any autonomy by lying to her about what he's doing. So my beef is not that Pete didn't consider her needs 100% of the time, but that he failed to ever consider them at all... and that the filmmakers attempted to legitimize some unbelievably shitty behavior by painting it with the "Men Have Different Needs" brush. That's all!

X.A.B.A said...

her reaction to her husband was lost on me i just did not get where she was coming from i understand her need of wanting him n i mean, that i want u as a person your thought n plans n u'r desires should be shared with me i get that yet to me she boarded on her sense of self clingy to who he is n while i agree that men n women who love each other need to share ther are just some things that only you as a guy need to deal with in your cave,but then thats just me.the topic of abortion i must admitt was a bit well not entirely skipped through that a women climbing the ladder of success in entertainment would not seriously consider it its a bit loose to me although i do not agree with the act in context of the movie it shud have been skillfully covered n way loved the movie it was a delightful insight to the already known world of men n women relationships, we different yet the same in an incongruous and different plane way

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