As we celebrate Judd Apatow in anticipation of this week’s release of Trainwreck, we’ve taken a look at how he has altered the scale of modern comedy by painting a more honest picture of growing up and how real life and all of the obstacles that go along with it can be funny, even when it’s simultaneously painful. Apatow doesn’t shy away from removing the glossy finish comedy viewers have grown accustomed to, and he’s not afraid to offer up consequences for his protagonists when they refuse to grow up. Comedy doesn’t have to be a light hearted escape from the realities of everyday living. Life is hard. Responsibilities are hard. Having a family can be hard, and in his more recent endeavors, Apatow has taken a closer examination at how relationships can be, well, hard.
If a comedy’s primary focus is on a romantic relationship, it’s automatically classified as a rom-com. Boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, extenuating circumstances create rift, boy and girl make up, then boy and girl live happily ever after. The end. But what happens next? Life happens next.
In Knocked Up, Ben (Seth Rogen) and Alison (Katherine Heigl) are faced with the daily reality of what awaits them in the realm of parenthood as they spend time with Alison’s sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd). Observing the dynamic of Debbie and Pete reveals a more brutally honest reality than watching the transformation of Ben and Alison from perky, rigid entertainment reporter and juvenile pothead, to mom and dad. Although Ben is the one who lives like a frat boy, jobless, sitting around making wagers with his buddies on how long a beard can be grown unkempt, Pete, even with his job, house, wife, and kids, manages to be the more irresponsible of the two, selfishly refusing to adapt to the life he’s chosen. Debbie follows Pete one night under the suspicion he’s cheating on her only to discover he’s been lying simply to get a break from his family, a betrayal which hurts Debbie as much if not more than if he had been sneaking around with another woman. Pete’s exclusive fantasy baseball draft is a comically intense scene, and their heated exchange contains some chuckle-worthy moments, but it’s an eye opening, sobering look at what seemingly trivial but very real conflicts await couples after the credits roll.
At the end of a particularly monumental day in a previous relationship, I spent my evening watching This is 40 for the first time. I won’t lie. I walked away feeling slightly discouraged about the concept of marriage, kids, and just adulthood in general. In This is 40, we laugh, but we also cringe and shy away from the uncomfortable moments, the screaming children, the awkward sexual encounters, the money troubles, and the difficult discussions. But I realize now that Apatow’s tendency to expose all of the bumps and bruises that go along with spending your life with someone is not to jade viewers or poke fun at the characters’ shortcomings as partners or parents but rather to show us that marriage is funny. It’s also devastating, painful, fun, frustrating, hard, and rewarding. But Debbie and Pete always find their way back to each other, because the best of the best is better than the worst of the worst, and they’ve chosen to go through it all together. So thanks, Judd Apatow, for giving us Debbie and Pete, because this is what real love looks like, flaws and all.