Netflix & Chill: 420 Edition – Judd Apatow movies

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

Judd Apatow likes to make movies about smokin’ herb, and I respect that. But his films are problematic gender-wise, and sexism surfaces in the unexpected activity of cannabis consumption. Take “Knocked Up,” for example: Ben (Seth Rogen) is a slacker stoner who lives with a bunch of dudes in a messy house, while Alison (Katharine Heigl) is a responsible, presentable entertainment journalist. Ben and his buds get high and watch movies all day (they’re unemployed, but starting a website called Flesh of the Stars citing the time stamps of celebrity movie nudity), but Alison and her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) are sullen, judgmental and disapproving of Ben’s lifestyle, weed use and general identity. Debbie’s husband Pete (Paul Rudd) is laid back like Ben, and clearly his children prefer him to mom.

In Apatow’s world, men are lethargic babies and women are ticked off adults who must help them grow up. Heigl famously told Vanity Fair “Knocked Up” was a bit sexist: “It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys … I had a hard time with it. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy?” Heigl paid dearly for these comments later, as they contributed to her negative public image. The media labeled Heigl a “diva” and “difficult to work with.” You’re not supposed to bad mouth a film you’ve starred in, especially if it succeeded at the box office.

This kind of gender assignment isn’t fair to either sex. Plenty of men are mature and responsible, and lots of women are sloppy and ill-equipped (or unwilling) to start a family. The plot of “Knocked Up” is particularly nutty – who decides to have a kid with a one-night stand?! The conceit is funny – don’t get me wrong – but no one should raise a baby with a stranger.

The majority of Apatow females are uptight, never natural comedians like the guys are (“40 Year Old Virgin,” “This is 40,” “Funny People.”) The director rectified this somewhat with “Trainwreck” (starring Amy Schumer) and “Bridesmaids” (he was a producer, though didn’t direct). Still, in “Bridesmaids,” Kristen Wiig takes drugs (someone else’s prescription pills) only because she’s afraid of flying, not to intentionally have a good time. There are few to zero scenes of women having reckless fun together away from men in any of these films. And that’s fine – Apatow is king of the bromance. Schumer at least drinks copiously and smokes weed in “Trainwreck,” but it’s more sad than silly. When she finally meets a nice man and settles down, she throws all her illicit substances away.

Anya Jaremko-Greenwold


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