Suddenly it occurs to me that the Judd Apatow backlash might all be bullshit. Let me see if I can explain.
I saw "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" last night and I was pleasantly surprised by it. I really liked it, in fact. It was funny and sweet and not overly filled with the standard Apatow crew (although several of them, obviously, appeared, thank you Paul Rudd I love you). Halfway through I thought to myself, fuck, this is a romantic comedy. And here's the New York Times sitting around talking about how the romantic comedy industry is freaking out because they aren't managing to capture crowds the way "You've Got Mail" used to, and they all want another "Wedding Crashers," which was not that funny, nor was it really that romantic. The Judd Apatow backlash constantly refers to his talent for portraying the loser guy, who always inexplicably gets the girl, even though she is like ten billion times hotter than he is. But "Wedding Crashers" was way more of a guy movie than any Judd Apatow fare, and I really don't get how people keep missing that point... maybe it's whatever freakish portion of the female population finds Vince Vaughn attractive.
Anyway, the new(ish) standard Apatow critique is that his female characters are two-dimensional. I will grant you that, to a point. I get that there was not much female character development in "Knocked Up," and the movie was primarily about the guys, although in my opinion not so much the guys who all lived with Seth Rogen in the house but more about Seth and Paul Rudd, who produced the funniest and saddest and best scene in the movie (when they are high on shrooms in the Vegas hotel room). However, I still think that Leslie Mann, despite coming off as somewhat shrill at times, was nevertheless incredibly sympathetic in addition to being legitimately funny. And Katherine Heigl, despite being the hottie who somehow was desperate (?) enough to sleep with the nottie, still showed a considerable level of strength throughout the movie, and there were hints of complication around her (such as when she runs into her old friends after buying baby stuff, and wants to hide it -- she's got issues with this, even if they are somewhat snobbish ones).
The girls in "Superbad" somewhat inexplicably go for the boys in the story, despite the boys being total idiots (or at least Jonah Hill was. Michael Cera is always adorable). But that was a teen movie, and it was more of a teen party movie, less a teen romcom (a la "She's All That," which is not so much a com except when it's by accident).
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" was not much different, although I would argue that sheerly because Kristin Bell is awesome she manages to give some depth, even if it was bitch-depth, to a role that could easily have been just a figurehead (forgive me since that's totally not the right word for a film role). Critics have claimed that she doesn't come off well even when she is trying to be sympathetic, but I disagree. I thought she is clearly a smart woman, who is clearly stuck in a career that she wants and does not want at the same time, and is negotiating a level of fame that she isn't really emotionally equipped for. Perhaps I'm interpreting, but I think that stuff is there, and it in part excuses her bitchiness. The other thing about this movie is that Jason Segel is much more likable than Seth Rogen in "Knocked Up," partly because he is more attractive and partly because he is written to be less of a total loser (although definitely not a success, he at least has managed to keep a job and date a girl for an extended period of time, and he has a treadmill, whatever that means), so it's much more understandable when Mila Kunis goes for him. Less of the total "shlub," in other words.
Anyway, all this is a long way of saying that it's true that the women in Judd Apatow romantic comedies (and romantic comedies they are, so don't deny it, boys) are arguably more two-dimensional than the guys in the movies. However, as a woman, I can say that usually, I like romantic comedies because I like the men in them at least as much as I relate to the women. At least in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," I related to Sarah Marshall (on a more shallow level than, say, I relate to Sally in "When Harry Met Sally," but that is Nora Ephron's genius so I cannot explain further). The best romantic comedies out there have both relatable women and attractive (I mean physically and personality-wise) men. The worst have bland women and boring men. There are some, like "My Best Friend's Wedding," where the woman is supremely relatable but the guy is not really super appealing except in the way that you so completely identify with Julia Roberts that you competitively want her to win him and he therefore becomes desirable. And there's "Two Weeks Notice," where Sandra Bullock is sort of meh (I can't relate to her, I don't get it) but Hugh Grant is bumbling and sort of incapable of taking care of himself and I love that movie. So the one thing Apatow has going for him is that his movies have somewhat realistic men, who also happen to be attractive, despite being legitimately flawed both physically and emotionally. I think that's why I've gotten more of a kick out of "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" than the romantic comedies I've watched recently -- and why, when I want to see a cute movie as of late, I dive into the archives instead of bothering to see a new one. Apatow movies aren't really guy movies. They still end well. "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" had its fair share of sort of fuzzy sunset moments. It also featured "pearl necklace" jokes and a pretty long (no pun intended) male frontal nudity moment/scene. So at risk of sounding like a moron and betraying my feminist roots, I think these movies are sort of unisex. And I consider that a strength, in a world where "romantic" movies have been relegated to the same world as chick lit and pink covers and all that. They are genuine crossovers, and I think the reason people are worried about them being sexist is less because they actually are and more because men actually go see the movies, and like them, and no one seems to be inclined to call them a click flick. So it's a case of a hyper-reaction, or something.
Anyway, this has been a very long ramble and I'm sure I'm leaving something out and probably will disagree with myself at a later point. But I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" again, so I guess that's sort of the ultimate point, right?
(Side note: It reminded me of "50 First Dates." Just fun fact!)
All this inspired by this.