“It paints the women as shrews, as humourless and uptight, and it paints the men as loveable, goofy, fun-loving guys,” Heigl said. “It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it, on some days. I’m playing such a b**ch; why is she being such a killjoy?”
Instantly, Heigl was declared the Hollywood b**ch. She was ungrateful. She was difficult. She was a woman to be avoided. Rogen and Apatow, certainly, never worked with Heigl again, and Apatow said in 2009 he expected an apology from Heigl that never came.
In 2016 — nearly a decade after the whole debacle — Rogen said he felt “betrayed” by Heigl’s comments, then added that he “respect(s) the fact that perhaps she realises that it has hurt her career”.
Recently, it’s been dragged up in the news cycle yet again, following Constance Wu’s tweets that suggested she didn’t want to return to her sitcom, Fresh Off the Boat, which prompted many to compare Wu to Heigl.
Look, maybe Heigl is a terrible person.
The now 40-year-old also faced flack that same year for saying that Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Shonda Rhimes didn’t give her “material this season to warrant an Emmy nomination,” and I have to admit, that’s a pretty rude thing to say. (Heigl also says she immediately apologised to Rhimes in person for those comments.)
But the blowback that followed her Knocked Up comments was frankly unreal.
By comparison, did Johnny Depp get black-listed after ex-wife Amber Heard accused him of domestic abuse, or did he get cast in a million-dollar, multi-film mega-franchise? Because I seem to recall it being the latter, and Heard’s allegations were arguably a lot worse than offering up some negative comments about a movie.
Were Heigl’s words about Knocked Up strong? Yes. Were they rude? Probably. But were they right? I rewatched the film recently, and honestly? Yeah, they were.
Before we dive in, I want to be clear: I like Knocked Up. I respect the hard work everyone put into making it. It’s a funny, sweet film with a lot of great people. It’s also pretty sexist. Both of those things can be true at the same time. Got it? OK. Let’s begin.
SETH ROGEN GETS ALL THE BEST LINES WHILE KATHERINE HEIGL IS TASKED WITH LAUGHING AT THEM
For those who have never seen the 2007 film Knocked Up — written and directed by Judd Apatow — it stars Heigl as a career-focused entertainment journalist and Rogen as the goofy, jobless loser who gets her pregnant.
Heigl decides to keep the baby, and so she and Rogen must learn to move past their differences. Rogen’s big appeal is his humour, which the film demonstrates again and again by having Heigl, who is much less fun, crack up at his antics.
Here is an incomplete list of jokes Rogen tells in Knocked Up that Heigl (or her co-star, Leslie Mann) laughs at:
— “I’m not good with accents.”
— “I’m gonna be sitting there on the trampoline smoking crack, and you’re not going to have anything to do.”
— “I’m breathing like James Gandolfini over here!”
— “Wanna buy me some new shoes? What else can I squeeze out of you?”
— A Robert De Niro impression. (For this one Paul Rudd joins in, while Heigl and Mann laugh uproariously.)
— “If I ever listen to Steely Dan, I want you to slice my head off with an Al Jarreau LP.”
— “We could just throw off everyone and become Latin Kings. We both look good in gold.”
— “These guys can honk all they want, I ain’t going faster than 12. It might take us around three hours to get home.” (As a bonus, this joke and Heigl’s responding appreciative laugh is the last line of the film.)
I failed to spot any instance in which Heigl delivered a joke that Rogen laughed at. On the rare occasion she did sneak one in there, he would respond with another joke of his own, to which she would — you guessed it — laugh.
This is not to say Seth Rogen and his jokes are not funny: He is and they are. But around the fifth or so time Heigl cracks up, you start to feel like Apatow — who also does stand-up comedy — wrote himself a very pretty, very appreciative one-woman audience.
LESLIE MANN IS DEPICTED AS A MEAN, CONTROLLING NAG WHO GETS PUT IN HER PLACE
To Heigl’s original point that Knocked Up “paints the women as shrews,” that’s especially true when it comes to Mann’s character, Debbie, who plays Heigl’s sister.
In scene after scene, Debbie berates her husband Pete (Paul Rudd). Pete refuses to take his responsibility as a father seriously, and instead sneaks out of the house to play fantasy baseball because he needs “personal time”.
(Fun fact: Mann is Apatow’s wife in real life, and their daughters, Iris and Maude Apatow, play Mann and Rudd’s on-screen daughters in this film.)
The men seem to agree that Debbie sucks. At one point Rogen says, “Debbie’s a pain in the ass and Pete’s awesome.” It’s so heavy-handed, I felt sure upon my rewatch that Debbie would, at some point, get her revenge on both of them — that Rudd and Rogen would be put in their place, proven wrong, and apologise for the way they treated her.
Instead, pretty much the opposite happens — at the end of the film, Rogen puts Mann in her place. He refuses to let her be in the birthing room with her sister, despite the fact that Mann has been with Heigl every step of the way.
The audience is supposed to feel that Rogen is good and right for doing this: Nagging, controlling Debbie finally learns to let someone else take the wheel! She needed to hear that!
It’s particularly frustrating because, at one point, Apatow does hint at a #JusticeForDebbie storyline, when Rogen tells Rudd that “Debbie’s awesome” and Rudd is “a s***ty husband”.
Yes! Good! You’d think that’d be followed up with a scene of Debbie demanding her husband treat her better, right? Surely Rogen is not the only one who gets to speak for her character?
Apparently, he is, because Apatow never follows through on that thread. Instead, Rogen decides Debbie’s a shrill b**ch who needs a real talking-to, and she just stands there and takes it.
SETH ROGEN LEARNS TO GROW UP, YES, BUT KATHERINE HEIGL ALSO LEARNS TO ‘LOOSEN UP’
While reporting a story for Newsweek, I once asked Judd Apatow about the accusations of sexism against Knocked Up, and whether he felt he’d learned from those criticisms.
He replied, “I hope that I’ve evolved. I don’t know that I’ve always been as sensitive to people’s feelings when I write, but I also feel like what’s tricky is sometimes you have characters that are insensitive. One concern is: Can you never have a character who’s awful?
“A lot of times, when I’ve had sexist jokes or racist jokes, it’s because I’m trying to make a character that way.”
Apatow’s point is taken, and to some extent, Knocked Up does attempt to highlight the sexism Heigl faces: she’s afraid to tell her bosses at E! about her pregnancy because she fears discrimination, she’s told to lose weight, and she and Mann frequently point out how much harder they have it than their male counterparts.
But at the end of the day, Knocked Up’s thesis is not that Rogen needs to grow up and meet Heigl on her level — it’s that they both have to learn to accept each other.
Rogen’s character gets a real job and apartment, and thank god for that. But in return, Heigl is expected to loosen up and lower her expectations. She delivers a speech about how wrong it was of her to try to “change” Rogen — she should just let him do the things that make him happy, rather than trying to “train him” as her sister (who, we all agree, sucks) suggests.
And of course, she is very much in the wrong for getting “hormonal,” and yelling at Rogen. (I believe Rogen’s exact line is: “You are a crazy b**ch, hormones. Not Alison, hormones. F**k ’em.”)
KATHERINE HEIGL NEVER EXPLAINS WHY SHE DOESN’T HAVE AN ABORTION
I’m sorry, but this bothers me. She was so upset when she found out she’s pregnant, her mum suggested the abortion, and Heigl doesn’t even consider it. That’s certainly a valid choice, but it would have been nice if she cited a reason! Morality, religious beliefs, feeling a connection with the baby — fine! Just give me something!
Not for nothing, but there are several homophobic jokes, too.
Mann calls the bouncer who won’t let her into a club “a f***ing f** with f***y gloves,” and Rudd jokes that Rogen looks like “Babe Ruth’s gay brother, Gabe Ruth,” when he’s wearing a pastel button-up. It’s not directly connected to the film’s sexism, but I’m just saying: that’s a bad look.
Three years ago, Heigl walked back her Knocked Up comments in a radio interview with Howard Stern. She said, “I liked the movie a lot,” and added, “I absolutely owe anyone an apology I unwittingly offended or disrespected. I get it. It was an immature, dumbass moment.”
But notice that she didn’t say she was wrong … Because she wasn’t.
This story originally appeared in Decider and was republished here with permission