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Meghan O'Rourke on Katherine Heigl on Knocked Up: "Maybe There's a Lot More to Women Than These Expectations"

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Sometimes it takes a national event to bring a taboo conversation to the fore. Terry Schiavo’s sad story and the attendant shamelessness of political opportunists, for instance, did have a positive effect: a lot of people finally got a grip and made living wills. Judd Apatow’s movie Knocked Up sparked a lot of debate in the press and at parties about how to deal with unplanned pregnancy between two people who weren’t planning to be together for the long haul, and I bet in a lot of bedrooms and dorm rooms, too. (You may recall that we had an extensive debate about the movie when David Denby wrote an essay about love and lovable-ish losers in the movies for The New Yorker.) More than a spoonful of sugar helped the medicine go down in Knocked Up; the movie is compassionate and funny, and in many respects, startlingly real.

In Slate this week, Meghan O’Rourke considers Katherine Heigl’s mild yet apparently heretical recent remark to Vanity Fair that Knocked Up is “a little sexist.” O’Rourke expands the commentary into a thoughtful essay about cultural expectations of maturity, responsibility, and gender behavior, observing astutely, “A culture that assigns all that weight to what ‘men’ and ‘women’ want only makes it more difficult for couples to establish their own fruitful ratio of intimacy to privacy.”

That Heigl felt it necessary to recant to People at all (thanks to O’Rourke for that link) makes me glum, given that what she said to Vanity Fair was awfully tame. On the other hand, as some of the film-land folks who were at my friend Meg’s wedding this past weekend related, Apatow is so (unsurprisingly) golden in Hollywood these days he’s practically untouchable. There’s a phrase screenwriters use now when they want to make a screenplay or pilot warmer, hipper, more sellable: “Just Judd it up!” And let me say once again that I love this guy. Do you know what I’m doing even as I type? I’m listening to the director’s commentary for Disc 2 of Undeclared, Apatow’s ill-fated, little-known, and totally charming TV series. That’s how much I love this guy.

Also, Knocked Up is a little sexist, a truth Apatow pretty much acknowledged, in a self-aware and relaxed manner, in his recent New Yorker Festival interview with Denby and Seth Rogen. If you haven’t seen the video of the conversation, one of the high points of the festival and a humongous crowd-pleaser, watch it now. So Apatow can admit—as he does at the end of the interview—that he has a lot to learn about women and women characters; Heigl is supposed to pose and smile, and not say anything at all. Now, that seems a little sexist to me.

Meanwhile, Details laments the rise of the twenty- and thirty-something “tweenager” woman, who text-messages her friends “OMG!” and watches Gossip Girl. For some reason this seems to be more frightening to Details than, say, the rest of the TV-watching population, men included, watching Gossip Girl. Maybe it’s because of “the inconvenient truth that men are not as attracted to women over 30,” as a letter-writer in the same issue opines (if women are going to act like girls, they should be as lust-worthy as girls, right?), but there’s a point in there somewhere. Too bad there’s also a pair of twentysomething women wearing knee socks and rollerskates and sucking lollipops in the same issue. Don’t simper like a girl, don’t age like a person, don’t bitch and moan like a grown women—gosh, ya can’t win! (I love the use of “inconvenient truth” there, too. PowerPoint that sucker and you might convince me.)

Till the world is just, you might want to consider donating to the National Network of Abortion Funds, for the people who are, in fact, knocked up and need to make that choice. Apparently, in return for your donation, you’ll get a copy of my friend Katha Pollitt’s great book Learning to Drive, and who’da thunk it, it’s compassionate, funny, and startlingly real, too. (Katha’s written about Knocked Up, too.) But it’s not a competition. Judd Apatow is an honest, sensitive modern man who’s got the grace to say he’s still learning, and I love the guy. Have I mentioned that?


Emily on KU again? Christmas is early this year! W00t! (M-W’s word of the year, btw.)

On aspecialthing.com I participated in a pretty interesting thread on the subject of Heigl’s comments. (Start here for that, at the first 12/4 post.) After a page or two, I linked to Emily’s first post on KU.

The more I think about it, the more I think Heigl’s right. KU is hard because it is a mix of a very honest and thoughtful movie and a rather dishonest and in some ways depressingly conventional movie. A lot of that “dishonesty” centers around Allison, who is a painted a bit thin in her private life (no friends to speak of), often seems merely a vehicle to show us changes in Ben, gets away with huge obvious whopping fire-worthy lies in the workplace, and apparently sees herself as having fewer options than Ben, even though the movie keeps emphasizing that she’s the catch.

And most importantly, that a new baby is a good way to help two semi-strangers cement a good relationship.

But hey, it’s not all bad, by any stretch. We’re still talking about KU half a year later, which is quite an accomplishment.

Let’s not see Juno, OK?

Why not see Juno? I’m charmed by all the ads I’ve seen, I have to admit. And the star is from Halifax! How can you not love that?

I have to agree with kg. Since Emily (and zp) posted here, I’ve seen multiple endorsements of Juno that make it sound like the perfect movie for those who were frustrated by KU. The trailer did look funny. Is it too vaguely similar to Saved! (about which I’ve also heard good things)?

I’m nervous about Juno now, having read a few dismayed takedowns by film bloggers and on Gawker (and the writer, Emily Gould, had been expecting to enjoy it). Nevertheless, I almost always like the movies Denby likes, so I’m going to give it a chance.

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