It’s Judd Apatow’s birthday, which means that in some corners of the Internet people will be firing up Netflix to watch Trainwreck. Or Bridesmaids. Or Freaks and Geeks. Or Superbad. Or Girls. Or Love. Or The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
(Nobody’s going to be watching The 5 Year Engagement).
Watch those movies, or those TV shows, and you’ll notice one thing in common that isn’t Apatow himself. Great female characters. The writer, director and producer gets a lot of flack when it comes to his roles for women. Katherine Heigl once famously called her part in Knocked Up “a little sexist” because of its depiction of women as shrews forcing their man-child boyfriends to grow up, to no less of a source than Vanity Fair.
Heigl had a point. We’re not going to stand here and argue that Knocked Up was a great film for womankind. But we also don’t want to be lectured about what counts for a sexist movie role by the star of The Killers and The Ugly Truth. (Oh boy, that movie. Talk about a film that could kick feminism back into the 20th century).
But we digress. Once you really start poking and prodding at Apatow’s movies, waving away the fug of, ahem, smoke that seems to shroud their male characters constantly, you start to see nuanced, developed, well-written, side-splittingly funny roles for women. Women who are allowed to be their uproarious, complicated, unlikeable selves, from Melissa McCarthy to Amy Schumer, Kristen Wiig to Lena Dunham, Rose Byrne to Linda Cardellini, Emma Stone to Jemima Kirke.
Forthwith, in no specific order, a list of Apatow’s best female characters.
Trish (Catherine Keener) in The 40-Year-Old Virgin
Imagine that movie without Catherine Keener’s Trish, an age-appropriate, funny, frazzled, fearless single mother who falls for Steve Carrel’s Andy despite his lack of romantic experience. Impossible, isn’t it? Trish is the film’s heart: you see why Andy would love her, and why she loves him right back. No chest waxing needed.
Amy (Amy Schumer) in Trainwreck
This one’s an obvious one, but it deserves a mention. Amy Schumer’s Amy is entirely her creation – she wrote the film – but some credit must go to Apatow for recognising Schumer’s comedic talent and giving her such a huge platform for her biting social satire. The film was a massive hit, and gave us such precious moments as the dirty talk scene.
Jules (Emma Stone) in Superbad
Okay so yes, technically Jules was the token eye candy in this movie, but isn’t it great that she wasn’t Seth (Jonah Hill)’s lust object because she was drop-dead gorgeous, but because she was hilarious and smart and that she met him toe for toe when it came to their banter.
The entire cast of Bridesmaids
Nothing before or since has come close to the brilliance of this female-led comedy. Finally, a chance for the girls to prove they’re just as raunchy, bawdy and outrageous as the boys. From Kristen Wiig to Rose Byrne, Melissa McCarthy to Maya Rudolph and Ellie Kemper, here was a movie filled to bursting with the kinds of women that had rarely been seen in comedy: loud, proud, unashamedly complicated. Hell. Yes.
The entire cast of Girls
And finally, praise must be heaped down upon Lena Dunham and her gang of friends in Girls. Again, Apatow can’t quite take credit for the characters themselves, they’re all Dunham’s creation. But what he can take credit for is plucking Dunham from obscurity and giving her a platform for her work, which has fast become the go-to for honest and unflinching depictions of female friendship and relationships on screen.
“He’s a tireless advocate for women,” Dunham has said of Apatow. “When I decided to write about my experience with sexual assault, Judd was one of the first people I shared my essay with. His notes were kind and considerate and made the work infinitely stronger when the story was met with backlash. I can safely say I would not have emerged from the darkness of that period without the constant check-ins, sweet jokes, and unwaveringly loving presence of Judd.”