Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Judd Apatow: Funny People? or Funny Men.

I am a fan of Judd Apatow's films. I loved Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I loved The 40-year old Virgin, and I think I loved Funny People. I'm not sure yet. But overall, I think Apatow's new brand of somewhat-sentimental comedy is genius - they are consistently the funniest movies coming out these days.

But -- that doesn't mean I haven't noticed that Apatow's movies aren't perfect. The feminist-conscious, women-studies major side of me is always grappling with the part of me laughing out loud. To be honest, most of my favorite movies have some serious gender issues (see: Fight Club). My boyfriend will hate me for saying this, but Pixar, Judd Apatow and Wes Anderson, while all being faves of mine, each have definite problems creating strong female leads. It's nearly impossible to find a (mainstream), funny, successful film with a female lead I can relate to, and that's pretty messed up.

In her essay, "Men Are From Apatow-Land, Women Are From Venus," Sarah Seltzer tries to deal with the problems found in Funny People in a constructive way, while dissecting why they are problems to begin with:
"In Apatow's movies, men bond, fight, smoke pot and get drunk, laugh, fight, cry, make up and eventually grow up. Women exist mostly as the objects of lasting affection or the punchlines of dirty jokes."

It's hard to argue that Apatow's movies all deal with men. The men perform the actions that move the plot, without exception. Despite the occasional strong female characters, the leads are never ladies - they are generally peripheral, emotional, and annoying. The women are never the focus of the movie. The men are the stars - everyone who has gotten famous through Apatow's movies is male (with the exception of his wife, perhaps). Even if his depictions of masculinity can be critical and interesting, the movies are all about the bros.

But does that mean we should dismiss Apatow as inherently misogynistic? I don't think so. I don't think I can excuse his complete lack of adequate female - not even close - but I can try to enjoy the other aspects of his movies - like the perfect satire of Walk Hard, and the perfect dysfunction of Stepbrothers. I can even appreciate the bro-on-bro action, to some extent. I can't be blind to Apatow's problematic gender representations, but I want to give him another shot.

All in all? I love Judd Apatow's movies, but I think Seltzer said it best...
"Apatow needs to turn his female characters into actual characters, rather than rewards given to men who have proven able to resist their libidos and outgrow their immaturity. Even if those women exist on the periphery of a male-centric comedy, they should be engaged with as people, not grappled with as a concept."
What did you think of Funny People? Am I way off? I'm not entirely sure yet. I think I need to see Knocked Up again before I conclude.

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