Wednesday, December 12, 2007

‘Knocked’ sensible

Katherine Heigl struck honest oil with ‘sexist’ comment — so don’t back down now, girl

By Gina Carbone

Here’s a whopper of a secret: Hollywood is sexist. And it’s making a success of it.

I trust you haven’t fallen off your chair.

And yet, when Katherine Heigl decided to call out her own summer sleeper — “Knocked Up” — for keeping to Hollywood’s unofficial cash code, Tinseltown and even some Average Viewers collectively gasped and clutched their pearls.

“It was a little sexist,” Heigl said in Vanity Fair’s January cover story. “It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys. It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a bitch; why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you’re portraying women? Ninety-eight percent of the time it was an amazing experience, but it was hard for me to love the movie.”

Personally I loved the movie. But I couldn’t agree with her more. Of course it was sexist. In exactly the manner she describes.

More of my thoughts later. First, the trial by public opinion, which was swift and polarized.

The Hum gossip column at E! Online wasn’t sure where to begin.

“Ouch! This leaves us in an awkward place. Should we praise her for being so honest and frank—or scold her for lashing out against what made her successful?”

Some of the column’s readers were more open.

• “Katherine is a awful actress and she don't know when to shut-up,” wrote one. “If she hated the movie so much why did she film it. In short she's saying she would lower he standards for the dollar. Her career will be short lived I can't stand her.”

• “Katherine rocks — it is refreshing that she is so honest,” wrote another. “I really think some people have over reacted — if you read her full quotes she isn't slamming anything just point out a few things she didn’t like about the characters. I think she made some very valid points. Thank god she is a celebrity who actually has something to say and can actually speak without having to hide behind a publicist. Love the girl.”

From Huffington Post readers:

• “I'm glad she didn't call Knocked Up completely sexist, but I think she's still wrong in her assessment here. The guys in the movie, while being ‘lovable, goofy, [and] fun-loving’, were also immature, selfish and crass... which is the typical stereotype for men in movies and tv shows. Both sides are represented with alternatingly stereotypical and atypical characteristics, which is what makes the characters and their interactions seem more real than 99% of Hollywood romantic garbage. Stereotypes are drawn from common experiences and while using them to pidgeonhole real people is wrong, lampooning them in entertainment is pretty much the very heart of comedy.”

• “Vacuous. What an idiot. Must have stayed up all night with her publicist to come up with something to say. Another example of ‘fame does not equal brains,’ like Shaq, George Bush et al.”

And from Defamer:

• “’Knocked Up’ may not exactly be realism city, but it's certainly no less credible than ’27 Dresses,’ wherein Katherine Heigl is upset because she's not pretty enough to get a date. Strictly in terms of the message being sent to young impressionable women, I would definitely say ‘Dresses’ is far more pernicious.”

• “The movie was a flippin' COMEDY! It was supposed to be as outrageous as it could possibly be. That's what made it so successful. It was about the most unbelieveable scenario possible. I have no doubts that there are many men that live day-to-day just like Seth Rogen's character. Just like I have no doubts there are just as many women out there like Katherine's. Would they ‘hook up’ & end up any different than the characters in the movie? Doubt it! If Hollywood put out movies that were as predictable as our day-to-day lives, they wouldn't be doing much business.”

• “I think what she might be getting at is that, if the movie was about a fat ugly stoner chick with a heart of gold who marries a god played by, say, Christian Bale, everyone would be all 'THAT SHIT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN'. Yet we totally buy Apatow's reverse version. And I'm totally ambivilent about Heigl. I just get where she's coming from.”

Speaking of Apatow, he’s turned these potential lemons into lemonade. New York Magazine asked the director about Heigl’s comments and he told them this:

"I think the characters are sexist at times, but it's really about immature people who are afraid of women and relationships and learn to grow up. If people say that the characters are sexist, I say, yeah, that's what I was going for in the first part of the movie, and then they change."

When the magazine asked if he's had his feelings hurt, he blamed Vanity Fair for twisting her comments. "I've done a lot of interviews, and when you're promoting a movie, you talk for hours and hours and hours, and so it's very easy for something to be taken out of context. I'm just happy people are talking about ‘Knocked Up’ six months after it came out."

Then he made his masterstroke: "You know we're on the cover of Vanity Fair. It reminds people that they need to buy ‘Knocked Up’ on DVD and judge for themselves."


But Apatow didn’t quite come out and defend Heigl with the full truth — she wasn’t bashing her movie. She wasn’t even coming up with an original thought. She was just enjoying a day without the veneer of better-be-polite-than-truthful codswallop that most people — especially actors who want to stay in business — plaster over their emotions all the time.

Unfortunately, that was probably Heigl’s last honest day. Even now her PR machine seems to be backpedaling.

As she told People magazine last week, "I was responding to previous reviews about the movie the interviewer brought to my attention. My motive was to encourage other women like myself to not take that element of the movie too seriously and to remember that it's a broad comedy."

Her “clarification” tour seems pointed at reiterating how “Knocked Up” was one of the greatest experiences of her life. Well, yes, she did allude to that in her original quote. She also made a bold statement few actresses would dare to say about their own films and she should be proud. Go for the legacy, Katie!

For the record, here’s the paragraph that preceded her “sexist” quote in Vanity Fair.

“Heigl is equally forthright about the movie that catapulted her onto the A-list. Many critics raved about ‘Knocked Up’ but quite a few discerned an underlying misogyny that made female characters into unappealing caricatures while romanticizing immature and irresponsible male behavior. Heigl counts herself among those who were perturbed.”

I am among those “quite a few” critics. As I wrote in a three-star review: “Although I loved this movie, I’m getting tired of the ‘King of Queens’ world where attractive, capable women fall in love with/end up mothering shlubby, childish men. (Apatow also produced ‘Anchorman,’ which epitomizes this set-up.) Alison and, especially, Debbie are not just the more mature, eye-rolling halves of their respective pairs; they’re often shrewish, nagging, neurotic, vain and awful to be around. The men, on the other hand, are just good-hearted blokes who like to have fun, tell jokes, play fantasy baseball and take it easy.”

I don’t deploy the sexist card as a knee-jerk reaction to every slight. I’m no man-hater and apart from a few days a month I live without penis envy. Still, I won’t deny jealousy is at the root of many of my Hollywood complaints.

I’m down for a “Fight Club.” I’d gladly be Mr. Pink in “Reservoir Dogs.” I want to face the peril with Monty Python. I’ll learn “The Way of the Gun.” Where do I sign up to be Jason Bourne?

I’m not the only girl who lives vicariously through boys’ adventures. As Debbie whined to her husband, Pete, in “Knocked Up,” “I like Spider-Man.” Yes, and I’d rather see it with Pete than Debbie. Not because he’s a guy, but because he’s as cool as my female friends.

What Hollywood STILL doesn’t seem to get is that women are just like men. We are all different people, not a series of flawless clones sharing a single Borg-like identity. (Oh, and when I say flawless, I mean physically – lack of intelligence is fine. Ugly chicks can stay on as sidekicks to make the real girls look even more attractive. They can even make witty comebacks, but they’ll never get the guy.)

This is the year of the mega-nerd. From “Knocked Up” to “Superbad” and TV’s entries of “Chuck” and “Reaper,” being a young awkward man has never been so rewarding.

Not that it was going through a dry spell. Back in “The Graduate” a directionless Dustin Hoffman — hardly a Redford — landed a lovely Katharine Ross. Remember “American Pie”? And the sequels? (Can we finally put a moratorium on the male coming-of-age-story?)

What do the women get? Tepid romantic weepies, vapid BFFs getting drunk and screaming “woo!” in some twat’s version of “empowerment.” And “Ugly Betty.” “Ugly Betty,” which stars the beautiful America Ferrera and includes an early episode where the atypical protagonist I’m supposed to be so proud of dresses up and is greeted by catcalls on the New York sidewalk. “Really?!” she gasps, pointing to herself. “Thank you!”

Yeah, that’s a good representation of me and my friends. Thanks for that.

Hard to say if “Juno” is going to chip away at if not break the mold for women since it’s still in limited release (which translates to “nowhere near Portsmouth, N.H.”). Fingers crossed.

Ironically Hollywood’s most refreshing look at a male/female relationship in years came from Apatow himself: “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” True the irresponsible, immature men were still present, but so was the sweet, loving Andy (attractive Steve Carell) and his funny, patient, more experienced girlfriend, Trish (equally but not more attractive Catherine Keener). A balanced, sensitive, adult take on humanity — and it still managed to be hilarious. Huh.

If more characters like that were written into Hollywood’s scripts instead of tired fanboy stereotypes, Katherine Heigl wouldn’t have to resort to actual honesty in a major magazine. She’d probably appreciate the break.