If one was looking in the New York Times’ Op-Ed section today for some opinions on the state of Obama-care or the media negligence surrounding the War in Iraq, one might have been surprised to see instead, a self-styled film review praising the “conservative values” of the films of Judd Apatow
Ross Douthat, the Times’ newest Op-Ed columnist and replacement for the gladly departed William Kristol, chose to wrote his Op-Ed this week on the film “Funny People” and how it was Apatow’s “most conservative” film in a long line of them.
His article, entitled “The Unfunny Truth,” states that no contemporary figure has done more than Apatow, the 41-year-old auteur of gross-out comedies, to rebrand social conservatism for a younger generation that associates it primarily with priggishness and puritanism.”
To make such a claim is to invite sniggers, as how can making movies involving so many Jews, Canadians, comedians, members of the so-called “Hollywood elite”, not to mention penis jokes, make for a “rebranding of social conservatism”?
But Douthat backs it up by citing The 40 Year-Old Virgin as an example of the benefits of waiting to have sex until marriage, calling the ending of that film akin to “an infomercial.”
More noticeably, he cites Apatow’s second film Knocked Up as an example of the arguments against abortion, with its scenes of rushing Katherine Heigl into a difficult choice, put upon by her parents, where she rejects the idea based on that discomfort.
Of Funny People, he claims that it reinforces the institution of marriage, citing George Simmons’s (Adam Sandler) misguided attempt to break up his ex’s marriage despite her two children.
“This time, doing the right thing has significant costs — but you have to do it anyway,” Douthat writes. “This time, doing the wrong things for too long has significant consequences — and you have to live with them. It’s the first Apatow film in which love doesn’t conquer all. And it’s the first Apatow film in which you get punished for your sins.”
Funny People was, now controversially, panned by most critics who saw it as bloated (it was marketed as a 150-minute comedy), but who also saw it as just not funny enough.
While I would say that might be the fault of the marketing of the movie, it might also be considered telling of Apatow’s attempts to be serious about love and loss, or his focus on the methodical ways of the stand-up comedian and their tenuous grasp on maturity through their profession.
In the same paper, A.O. Scott penned a defense of the film Funny People, citing it for it’s ambition, without mention of Douthat’s purported conservative overtones.
Is Funny People the most conservative comedy since An American Carol? Or is it just another movie, well, about Funny People that Americans didn’t seem to get too much?
I would say that Mr. Douthat reads too much into Mr. Apatow, a writer who claims all of his films as autobiographical, and his allegiances. I don’t think it is “conservative” to believe in love, or to have a frustrated sexual life (indeed, many conservatives seem to be enjoying quite active ones). I think Heigel’s character’s choice in Knocked Up was a product of feeling like she was pressured into something she didn’t want, not a reaction against the nature of abortion. Indeed, one might think that someone as assiduous as her character was in that film would have riled if she didn’t have a choice as to whether or not to terminate her pregnancy, which is what a socially conservative position espouses.
Still though, thinking about Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill as counter-revolutionaries espousing Apatow’s conservative message is a lot funnier than looking at a usual op-ed subject like Iraq. Or the economy. Or the job market. Or the housing market. Or Afghanistan. Or…
-Nicholas Feitel, Contributing Editor
Nicholas Feitel also writes for his own blog, Feitelogram.