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Why women fret and men laugh... in Hollywood

Why women fret and men laugh… in Hollywood. TV and the movies don’t always play fair when it comes to guys, gals, and the children they try to raise, says Nicholas Fonseca

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Hugh Grant, Nicholas Hoult, ...

Why women fret and men laugh… in Hollywood

If you’re one of the 35 million Americans who watched the ”Friends” finale, you were witness to yet another of its now-infamous cliffhangers. In this go-round — the show’s eighth — new mommy Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) accepted what she assumed to be a marriage proposal from Joey (Matt LeBlanc), all in a fussy fit of postpartum confusion and domestic desperation.

If you’re one of the 24 million who caught ”Will & Grace” immediately following, you were witness to a strained, slight hour in which our beloved titular characters — who are apparently so unattractive they can’t even land a date in New York City, for crying out loud — made a valiant but feeble attempt to make a baby of their own. Lucky for us (and them), Will and Grace were overcome by common sense (and, in her case, bad ovarian timing), leaving them to ponder whether or not to actually create a child — and whether or not to continue torturing us with this preposterous storyline next season.

Finally, if you’re one of the 11 million who trudged through the final episode of ”Ally McBeal,” you watched as Ms. McBeal and her daughter, Maddie, found themselves moving to New York after a doctor diagnosed Maddie with a psychosomatic illness caused by separation from her home turf in Gotham. Gee, ”like mother, like daughter” never seemed more applicable, huh?

It’s interesting to note the irony of Rachel, Grace, and Ally’s collective plight at this particular cultural moment, when Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book ”Creating A Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children” — in which she urges women to marry and procreate early to avoid later heartache and bitterness — has caused such an uproar that no less than four national magazines touched upon its impact in cover stories, and Tina Fey and the gals of ”SNL” made an on-air proclamation that ”we hate Sylvia Hewlett.”

Now chew on this: If you head to the local multiplex, you can see Hugh Grant in the very touching — but very manipulative ? ”About A Boy,” playing Will Freeman, an oafish lad whose sole purpose in life seems to be constantly upgrading his Bang & Olufsen stereo equipment and keeping his perfectly tousled hair, well, perfectly tousled. When Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), an oddball 12-year-old whose mother is so depressed she can barely get through the morning without attempting suicide, aims for companionship with Will, it’s played — as with movies like ”hree Men and a Baby” and ”Big Daddy” — for laughs.

And therein lies a fascinating contradition: Watching a man fumble his way through fatherhood is funny… but single moms? They’re often mawkish, reactionary screechers grasping for the nearest Prince Charming who can sweep them off their feet. Think about it: When Rachel and Grace finally attuned themselves to their biological clocks, they were, respectively, terrorized by the notion of single motherhood and led to attempt procreation with a gay man. Even Ally, who ended her frustrating five-year search without a man, couldn’t get through her final televised hour without being haunted by visions of past boy toys Billy (Gil Bellows) and Larry (Robert Downey, Jr.).

All hope, to be fair, isn’t lost. On the big screen, you can see Jennifer Lopez as a kick-ass mom in ”Enough,” so determined to protect her daughter from an abusive husband that she’ll literally kill him if that’s what it takes. (Too bad the movie plays like your run-of-the-mill Sunday afternoon Lifetime rerun.) Or you can tune into The WB’s ”Gilmore Girls” every week for a fine TV portrayal of single parenthood in all its frustrating, frightening, and often very funny glory.

Sure, it’s refreshing to see Hugh Grant — a man who’s always been so good at portraying smarmy, self-involved twerps — finally afforded the good humor of millions as he stretches into the role of father figure. But shouldn?t beloved heroines like Ally, Grace, and Rachel be afforded the same level of respect if they choose to buck child-rearing convention and do it their way?