Life As We Know It

While Katherine Heigl is a bona fide rom-com star, her rise to the top hasn't exactly been smooth. As she's moved from television surgeries to big-screen love, she's also talked herself into a spot as one of Hollywood's more difficult divas.

But there's a new twist that's gaining steam -- an idea that she's nothing more than the innocent victim at the middle of an unfair media sh*tstorm. 'The New York Times' has labeled her the "Unwilling Diva," a good person getting a bad rap as reporters latch onto the bad and run with it. It's not that she's created trouble for herself, this new opinion claims, but that Heigl is victim of her strength, independence and outspoken nature.

Now Heigl has to spend her time talking not just about her new projects, but also her image, in an attempt to wipe away this pesky stigma and figure out why people don't like her. But it's really not much of a mystery, and there's little chance that feigned innocence will help her case.
It's hard to work yourself out of a rut of bad publicity when much of it is based on your negative commentary about the show that made you a star ('Grey's Anatomy') and the film that made you a viable leading lady ('Knocked Up'). No matter how right you may be, Hollywood critiques have to face the stringent believers of the idea that you don't bite the hand that feeds you, especially when the hands have completely made your career.

When the media mess began, Heigl made honest assessments, so her forthrightness was rational and easy to understand. As Patricia Chui outlined on this site in her pro-Heigl post last year, it's understandable not wanting to include yourself in an Emmy race when your previous year of material wasn't up to snuff. Her sentiment could easily have been framed as stepping aside to let other worthy ensemble players shine, just as much as it could have been the onset of diva behavior. It's also understandable to be bothered by the sexist connotations in 'Knocked Up' -- she wasn't the only one who noticed the themes.

But as with life, the Heigl diva issue isn't that simple. When speaking about the television show, and standing up for her struggling friend T. R. Knight, she also made the rounds complaining about the series' production schedule: "I'm going to keep saying this because I hope it embarrasses them -- a 17-hour day, which I think is cruel and mean." [emphasis mine]

Boom! Catty woman alert! Quickly, the complaints began to tip from honest commentary into inappropriate griping outside of the workplace, which started to cloud her sensible comments. Now passing on the Emmy race didn't seem noble or honest, but another way for Heigl to "embarrass" a show she'd become fed up with. Note the "hours and storylines" comment in the clip below.

Additionally, after saying that 'Knocked Up' "paints women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as goofy, fun-loving guys," she both produced and starred in a flick that makes Judd Apatow's film seem like a paragon of progressiveness. 'The Ugly Truth' is the story of an uptight, humorless woman who is taught how to be a better, sexy and alluring creature by a blatant male chauvinist. And as he gives her this "ugly truth" and acts like an ass, she falls in love with him. Essentially, after complaining about female characterizations in 'Knocked Up,' she blew those same cliched stereotypes into stunning proportions and celebrated them.

In fact, uptight, "unsexy" women define her mainstream Hollywood success. Heigl followed 'Knocked Up' with the girl who couldn't ever get a man in '27 Dresses,' last year's 'Killers' had her playing the rigid wife who learns how to loosen up while facing certain death with her lying husband and now we've got 'Life As We Know It,' where part of the marketing campaign centers on Heigl's uptight character sitting in a car as the sexy, easygoing dude (Josh Duhamel) makes another date for that night.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

The question isn't why moviegoers feel the way they do about her. It's why she chose to speak out about fairly mild themes in a hugely successful film and then went on to star in a bunch of crappy rom-coms that took her complaint to new and sometimes disgusting extremes. Why does she now celebrate what she once criticized? Heigl's negative image isn't only defined by her outspoken nature, but by her hypocrisy -- which she doesn't seem to have an explanation for. The same complaints come up every time her image is discussed, so she certainly knows why she has an image problem.

In that same Times interview, Heigl said: "I've been told I'm too forthright with opinions. Well, do they want a fierce woman or milquetoast? Should I be me, or should I pretend to be something I think people want? Pretending seems pretty ridiculous to me."

Not only is she deflecting very valid criticism of herself, but she's also attempting to avoid addressing her career decisions by framing the audience as sexist. It reeks of the boy who cried wolf, and does absolutely nothing for the strong and opinionated women trying to speak their mind and live by those same principles. Outspoken women cannot make any headway in this world when women like Heigl use female strength as a shield against taking responsibility for their choices.

As a woman forthright about her opinions, Heigl needs to explain herself. Why does her work celebrate -- to greater extremes -- issues she had with her most popular and widely loved film, and why does a "fierce" woman such as herself continually choose characters that are not only defined by the men -- or lack thereof -- in their life, but who embody the exact opposite of what she deems important?

She might loathe the idea of spineless woman in real life, but she sure seems to love playing them, and until she can make us understand this disconnect, her struggles are sure to continue.
categories Columns, Cinematical