As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Schlubs

Posted by Hedwig on April 19, 2008

Jeff Wells is on a crusade. A holy enterprise of grand importance. He’s spotted something wrong with the world (of film), and he’s not going to stand for it. The phenomenon he’s discovered is to him a sign of the impending apocalypse, and he sees himself as the last defense.

The big threat? Schlubby guys getting beautiful girls in movies.

His focus is on the various Apatow productions in particular. He’s outraged that out-of-shape, ambitionless, “marginally unattractive”, usually jewish guys manage to hook up with gorgeous shiksas like Katherine Heigl and Kristen Bell in movies like Knocked Up and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Why? Because he can’t relate.

Now, I don’t want this post to be about mocking Wells. It’s simply too easy, with quotes like:

Segel is an obviously bright guy with moderately appealing features, but he also has a chunky, blemished ass and little white man-boobs, and he could definitely use a little treadmill and stairmaster time and a serious cutback program regarding pasta, Frito scoop chips, Ben & Jerry’s and Fatburger takeout. I don’t relate to this shit at all, I was muttering to myself.

I’m not referring to the film itself (which everyone around me seemed to have a pretty good time with). I’m talking about the simple exercise of relating to a lead character during the first 10 or 15 minutes of a film and saying to myself, “Yeah, that’s me to some extent…I’m sorta like that guy…I’ve been there,” etc. If you can’t do that, as I couldn’t last night, the movie isn’t going to work for you. Like, at all.

I mean, I could speculate about Wells’ opinion of himself, but the piece pretty much mocks itself. Instead, I’d like to examine this trend a little from my own perspective. So, you’ve been WARNED: personal opinions will follow, also on non-movie related things.

First of all: is it really a trend? I mean, who were the male stars of romantic comedies? Tom Hanks. Billy Crystal. John Cusack. Woody Allen, if you go back a few more years. Not unattractive, per se, but hardly hunks. There are two main differences between the movies they starred in and the ones we get now. First of all, the man’s “unattractive”, or at least not perfectly in-shape, body, wasn’t emphasized as much (with the exception of the Woodster). Now, it’s often explicitly pictures, and used for comedic purposes. Secondly, the new romantic heroes aren’t just “schlubby” in looks: they are generally in behavior too. They’re slackers, spending their days, in the case of Knocked Up, designing a website that turns out to already exist. They’re fundamentally stuck in adolescence.

Oddly enough, this results from the focus of these movies becoming more egalitarian. Back in the good ole’ days, romantic comedies were very much wish-fulfillment for women. And while yes, women often fantasize about being with gorgeous guys, they fantasize even more (and this is a broad generalization, but the discussion kind of calls for it) about being gorgeous – and stylish, and funny, and fun – themselves. The appeal is not in the gorgeousness of the hunk: it’s his adoration and pursuit of the female lead that makes him appealing most of all.

The situation now has changed. Apatow’s movies might nominally fall in the “rom-com” category, as they are comedies that revolve in great part around romantic entanglements, but their primary audience is men. The twist that has made these movies (up until now, at least) such a success is that the penis-oriented humor is crude enough that guys don’t have to be embarrassed if they like them, while enough sappiness is mixed in with the raunch that their (prospective) girlfriends can like them, too.

While old-fashioned rom-coms were female wish fulfillment, Apatow’s movies show what males fantasize about. And -if we can trust these movies – men mostly fantasize about getting together with the hot chick. Being attractive themselves is not something they seem to particularly care about except as the means to an end. If they can get the girl while still being their schlubby, untrained selves, it’s even in some respects better: the fantasy is not have to put in any effort. Apatow’s movie provide an even more specific realization of this fantasy: in his movies, all it takes to get the girl once is a few funny lines, and all it takes to get her forever is an occasional sweet gesture.

Jeff Wells can’t identify with these guys with their low thread-count shirts and lack of ambition. To be honest, I think he might be in a rather select minority: most guys I know probably don’t have any trouble seeing a little of themselves in Seth Rogen or Jason Segel. And even if they DO go to the gym regularly or have prestigious jobs, part of them probably wishes they could sit around in their basements talking about nekkid stars and smoking pot all day.

But what about us girls? And here I finally (I know, it took a while) get to the point of the story. Much as there’s been written on various blogs, I have yet to hear a girl’s reaction to the phenomenon, except maybe for MaryAnn Johanson’s unequivocal loathing of Knocked Up, The 40-year old virgin and apparently also Forgetting Sarah Marshall (she hasn’t written a review yet, but the blurb doesn’t sound promising).

Before I continue, I should point out that I could, in a way, be described as the female version of the schlub. Oh, I work hard enough, got all my degrees in time so far, and despite my nationality, pot isn’t really my thing. But there are things about the schlubs I recognize. For instance, I’m not even sure I can call myself “out of shape”, because that seems to imply I was, at one point, “in shape”. I like knowing meaningless trivia, watching things ironically (I almost bought “Flesh Gordon” -and that’s not a typo – in Oslo), my behavior can often be described as “puerile”, and I’m not very good at the things girls are supposed to be good at, like thoughtfulness and, you know, color co-ordinating your clothes.

Does that make me appreciate Apatow’s movies more, or less? In a way, more: I can appreciate the juvenile humor, from the beard jokes in I Knocked Up to the penis-montage in Superbad. And I understand those slackers: I don’t think I could ever be like them, but part of me wishes I could. And even the relative unattractiveness of the leads is not a real issue: I could go for Ben in Knocked up, despite the slackerism (slackerity?) and the untrained body. I haven’t seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but I could absolutely be attracted to Jason Segal: washboard abs are nice and all, but their absence is hardly a dealbreaker.

Still, I’m not a big Apatow fan. Because if I looked like Katherine Heigl or Kristen Bell, I might not go for those guys. Not because they’re not attractive, but because with those looks, you can choose. You can get someone who’s both physically attractive, ambitious, and even nice to boot. Those kinds of guys are rare, but they exist, and if you have the looks you can find them. Even if, and here comes the crucial point, you’re kind of a drag.

And Apatow’s women are. Even if they fall for the protagonist’s jokes and often settle for them in the end, they definitely are a different species. Women can’t fit into the boys’ club. The more specific peeve is: girls like me don’t exist in his universe. Girls who CAN appreciate a corny action movie, a crude joke, a dialogue about the merits of Munich. Girls who don’t, necessarily, want a commitment. Girls that have luckily slowly started popping up elsewhere: Liz Lemon on 30 rock, for example, or Lily (Allison Hannigan), the fiancée/wife of Jason Segel’s Marshall in How I met your mother. They’re pretty and thin, of course (can’t ask for everything at once), but they are genuinely funny an fun.

It’s not even that I’m offended that there aren’t movies about schlubby girls getting gorgeous guys. Innovative as that would be, I’m not sure it would work. It’s just that Apatow’s view of women in these films is annoyingly limited, and I wish they would be as lovingly – though unapologetically – depicted and as three-dimensional as the guys. Even if they’re not present as romantic interests, it would be nice if they were present at all.

My two cents. In only 1000 words or so. I say: let the discussion begin.

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5 Responses to “Schlubs”

  1. I’ve already taken my small swipe at Wells this week, so it’s not really fair of me to pile on.

    But this subject has been bugging me since he first brought it up with Knocked Up last year. Yet what irritates me is impossibly multifaceted and I’m not sure I can express it all in this format.

    First of all, I’ve seen Wells and he’s not all that.

    Second, I resent the assumption that Katherine Heigl is all that great of a catch or is the fantasy of regular dopes like me (increasingly out of shape, somewhat more motivated in the last year, non-pot smoker, would never be confused for George Clooney). She’s not. Pretty I suppose but not at all interesting.

    Third, as you touch upon, with these characters, it’s not about the physical flaws Wells is so shallowly hung up on, it’s the fact that they’re complete wastes of time. They offer nothing that any self-respecting woman would find appealing beyond an occasional laugh and a lay. So my problem with Knocked Up was never the hook up. I could see that happening (besides, in order to sleep at night, I need to tell myself that with a little more self-confidence I could pull off the same trick!), but I never bought for a minute she would want to make a life with this guy. He’s the man equivalent of the dumb blonde with big cans. Short term fun but nothing to talk about the next day.

    See, I’m already starting to ramble. I knew I couldn’t pull this off…

    I suppose my deeper point is the soul cancer of Jeff Wells and that’s really not your focus here so I’ll cut this off.

  2. “Yet what irritates me is impossibly multifaceted and I’m not sure I can express it all in this format.” Oh my god. Did I really just write that? That’s the silliest sounding thing I’ve written in a week. And that’s saying something.

  3. Daniel said

    I think you nailed it when you mentioned the previous generations of “schlub” guys. This is just the latest version, and it happens to be in a post-American Pie (and then post-40 Year-Old Virgin) era, where you can get away with a lot more raunch on screen and consequently expand the gap between hot girl and schlub guy.

  4. Michiel said

    He’s the man equivalent of the dumb blonde with big cans. Short term fun but nothing to talk about the next day.
    I thought about this but I think this is just not true. It may be true during the first part of their relationship and it is – more or less – the reason he gets dumped by her in the first place. The reason she opts to stay with him in the end is because he really tries hard to change: he gives up his slacker life, moves away from his friends and gets a decent job. Hell he even constructs a baby room in his new appartment. This is one thing women like (yes I’m generalising): responsibility. And that isn’t something I associate with dumb blondes.

    On top of that: I wouldn’t describe Rogen’s character as dumb, I actually suspect he is quite intelligent. He just hasn’t used his intelligence yet.

  5. sarcastig said

    So, Craig, basically you’re saying neither Heigl or Rogen are very attractive beyong the superficial level in Knocked up, so… that kind of makes them a match, no?

    I’m not quite sure I agree with you either. Rogen’s character is a bit dopey, but he’s not unintelligent, and the big temptation of guys like him is that they are sweethearts underneath all the bravado, and they at least seem like they’re slightly moldable (which spell check tells me is not an actual word, but I think it should be). He’s a vat of untapped potential, and as such it’s tempting to put invest in him for the long term.

    Truth is, I know guys like that, even dated a few. And changing them takes so much more energy than a schlub like me is willing to put in 😉

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