Mismatched at the movies


When Patricia Brett Erens, AM’63, saw last summer's comedy hit Knocked Up, she wasn't particularly amused by the plot (ambitious young career woman Alison Scott and post-college slacker Ben Stone accidentally get pregnant in a one-night stand; Alison decides to keep the baby). But she was intrigued by the film's popularity—and what it might say about American culture.

Are mismatches like Alison and Ben "just a condition for comedy," asked Erens, an adjunct professor of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, "or do they reflect 21st-century issues?" Are they a species of male fantasy, "a way of reassuring men that they can continue adolescence into adulthood and still get the woman when they're ready?"

During her March 13 lecture, "Modern Romance in Cinema: What Was She Thinking?"—which, sponsored by the Chicago Women’s Alliance, brought 60 people to the School of the Art Institute ballroom—Erens showed clips tracing the genre's trajectory, from 1938's screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, where a wealthy ditz and a nerdy paleontologist find love, through 2007's darker Margot at the Wedding, in which Margot's successful sister marries a less-than-impressive mate.

What did her audience think about the recent films? Erens asked. "Those men in Knocked Up were the worst," one woman of a certain age declared. "I wouldn't have gone out with any of them." Other women gave slackers like Ben the chance to grow up: "I think there's a healthy recognition that there are other qualities besides money and having a degree."

The Chicago Women’s Alliance, an affinity group for women 45 and over who are U of C alumnae, faculty, administrators, and/or research associates, was founded in 2007 (men are welcome to join or attend events).


Photo: What's a screwball comedy without someone ending up in jail? In Bringing Up Baby, both Katharine Hepburn's ditzy heiress and Cary Grant’s sobersided paleontologist end up behind bars.

March 19, 2008