Dear Judd Apatow: Do You Just Not Get Women?

I thought maybe Amy Schumer’s bad-assness had helped cure you, but I was wrong. And one line in "Trainwreck" proves it.
Publish date:
August 3, 2015
movies, feminism, Amy Schumer, Trainwreck, Strong Women Characters

Dear Judd Apatow:

Please help me. I’m just a woman so critical thinking is hard for me. I want to support you – really, I do. You support women who are at least walking the path toward feminism, like Lena Dunham. You speak out on issues of import, like homelessness, gun control, and date rape. You make some funny jokes. You employ a lot of people. I really, really want to support you. But you don’t get women, and you’re making my job very, very difficult.

I just got back from seeing Trainwreck. I was kind of excited about it, because I’m a fan of Amy Schumer. Plus, I figured you had matured some by now. I hoped that your wife and daughters had schooled you. I thought maybe Amy’s bad-assness had helped cure you, but I was wrong. And one line in the movie proves it.

Before I give you the line, look. I know Amy wrote the movie. Maybe I shouldn’t blame you for something she may have put on paper. But this is her virgin effort, movie-wise. And it has the stamp of your hands all over it. Whatever places her writing, or her plot, may have seemed weak, you had the opportunity to strengthen them. Your experience in movie writing and directing and producing could be used to build her UP. But instead…

[SPOILER ALERT. Reader: if you plan to see Trainwreck and have not yet done so, you will want to stop reading this now, because I’m going to talk about the end of the movie. Do you hear me, reader? I’M GOING TO GIVE AWAY THE END OF THE MOVIE NOW SO PLEASE STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT IT RUINED. (Which is only possible if you’ve never seen a romcom. EVER. Their plots are all the same so you know what happens here. Just put an Apatow stamp of weak womanhood on it…)]

...But instead, you have Amy stand in front of her cast family and declare herself jealous, empty, and “broken.” I started laughing. I thought it had to be a joke – like maybe a Phyllis Schlafly-esque riff on what it means to be a woman. I mean, it had to be. Why else would you have dressed this theoretically intelligent writer character in ridiculously short miniskirts for the entire movie? Why else would she, who clearly enjoys the nightlife as any human is entitled to, can’t moderate her behavior to make her relationship work, but must stay home from the bars and clubs, and eliminate all traces of alcohol and pot from her house as if that is the deus that is coming ex machina to solve everything? Because any trace of fun is surely the hallmark of moral downfall.

And of course, she must be broken, because she doesn’t like kids, or want them. Thank god she realizes she’s the problem so she can start connecting with her maternal instincts and biological clock before the movie ends.

Amy Schumer is not above reproach, and of course she bears some responsibility for what we see here. As a comic, she clearly shares your appreciation of frat-house humor. She mocks her own brand of female crazy in skits like “Fight Like a Girl,” and spends copious amounts of time in her stand-up talking about meaningless sexual encounters.

But Amy is female. I’m sure you don’t need me to point out the importance of identity in authorship of jokes of this ilk. Schumer has noted in response to criticism of racism in her standup that she herself is an artist in development.

And the current season of her show has brilliantly slammed some of the very misogyny we see highlighted in many of your movies. “Last Fuckable Day” and “Football Town Nights” are hysterical (yet poignant) commentaries on the commodification and objectification of women and girls from small towns to big cities.

So yes, Amy bears some responsibility.

But you bear more. You have a 30-year career of learning opportunities that prove you aren’t interested in learning this lesson. In one movie after another, your writing clearly demonstrates the ages-old rhetoric that women are fulfilled by marriage and babies, not by their careers. Men go kicking and screaming into parenthood, and it’s the woman’s job to domesticate him into submission.

I wanted to prove myself wrong about this. Maybe my reaction to the appalling characterization of women in Knocked Up was simply my own response to what was happening in my life at the time when I saw it? Or perhaps I was just imagining what it may be like to actually be your wife and constantly cast as a harpy. Perhaps you weren’t really writing a movie in which a woman realizes that her desire for career growth is of course infinitely less important than her opportunity to have a child conceived on a one-night stand with a slacker pothead whom in reality she would never see again and would most certainly not end up with. (Disclaimer: I have nothing against slacker potheads. Some of my close friends are slacker potheads.) So I decided to give your writing another try, and watched This is 40.

Nope. Not a fluke. The same characters are back, with all the same characterization and none of the illumination one would hope would come from the interim five years of marriage, child-rearing, and just, you know, being a human. A man is still being pushed into submission by his female spouse. She has a cute little side career that she seems unable to manage, since $12,000 has gone missing from her shop and she can’t imagine where it went. Ironically, the husband is losing tons of money at his business, but this is really a subtext of the film, since his business defines much of what it means to be him. So much rides on it while he remains calm about all of his "failures." And by calm I mean "doesn’t tell his wife." Because he’s a man -- he’ll figure it out.

Meanwhile, his wife is freaking out about turning 40, instead insisting on turning 38 again, then getting angry when the gifts she receives aren’t tantamount to the gravity of her entrance into a new decade. When she finds herself suddenly pregnant, it is clear she doesn’t want the kid. And then, as if there are no other options for this Caucasian, upper-class married couple in Los Angeles, she sits on her feelings until ultimately, of course, realizing she wants another kid. All the while, she over-emotes every, single, possible interaction, calling herself, and being called by others, “crazy,” multiple times.

I think it says something about a movie when the best five minutes of it are the outtake during the credits in which Melissa McCarthy goes on a genius faux rant and she’s the only one in the scene who can keep her crap together long enough to finish the script. I’m not above some frat house humor, though I don’t think I’d use it as my hallmark as the cultural tastemaker of a generation. I loved Bridesmaids. I thought Forgetting Sarah Marshall was great. I can’t help but notice you didn’t write either of those, though.

So, Judd, maybe I’m just crazy? Maybe if I were to get pregnant, all of this would make sense to me? Maybe if I quit my job and become June Cleaver, the girdle-wearing will squeeze some meaning back into my life until I can find a husband to tolerate me drugging him into domesticity with some home-baked cookies? Since you have a daughter heading off to college next year, maybe you can help us both with a little fatherly advice? Contextualize your body of work into something I, as a woman, can understand, relate to, and support without feeling my future is doomed.



Ex-SVP at a Fortune 50, Global Independent Traveler, Lover of Movies, Books, Men, and my Dog, Cookie-Maker and Totally Ticked-Off Feminist