Over the course of her decades-long career, Amy Poehler has shown that she can be all kinds of funny. She stole every scene she was in as Regina George’s gum-snapping, constantly-winking ‘cool mom’ in Mean Girls, while her seven-year stint on Saturday Night Live revealed her to be a killer impressionist. And in Parks and Recreation, her performance as Leslie Knope proved she could embody female characters who are a million things at once: hilarious and serious, silly and sincere, professional and inept, selfless and ruthlessly ambitious.
In Poehler’s new film, The House, she stars alongside Will Ferrell as one half of a middle-aged couple who – upon realising they’ve accidentally spent their teenage daughter’s college fund – open an illegal casino to make the money back. (Because sure.) It’s a big, sweary, slapstick summer comedy, featuring frequent deployment of the f-bomb and a particularly bloody scene in which Ferrell accidentally chops off a man’s thumb.
It’s not a particularly highbrow role: Poehler’s character, Kate, is the kind of woman who hungover-vomits while shopping and warns a man that she’ll “chop his d*** off”. However, the 45-year-old actor and comedian says that she thinks it’s important that women are given the space to be just as gross and goofy as men.
“We wanted to make sure they’re both idiots together because if there’s one thing I will fight for it’s for women to be just as idiotic as men,” Poehler tells Refinery29.
She adds that both she and Ferrell were against the idea of the ‘wife’ character being cast as the nagging, sensible foil to her funny, immature husband – a trope that we see in comedies from The Hangover to The Simpsons.
“It was important for us to play characters that were a team,” says Poehler. “Oftentimes [in comedies] we find the husband has this great plan and the wife is like, ‘Come on you guys, stop having fun!’”
While Poehler and Ferrell’s on-screen marriage involves rather more violence and illegal gambling than most relationships, she says that she thinks real-life couples could take inspiration from The House.
“Their marriage is pretty strong because they’re delighted by each other and they know each other’s limitations which, in real life, is important in any good relationship,” she says.
Poehler isn’t the first actress to highlight the problem with the sexist film cliché of the nagging wife or girlfriend. Back in 2008, Katherine Heigl questioned how women were portrayed in Knocked Up. Heigl starred as the highly-strung girlfriend of Seth Rogen’s sloppy buffoon in the Judd Apatow movie, while Leslie Mann played Paul Rudd’s controlling wife.
“It paints the women as shrews, as humourless and uptight,” Heigl told Vanity Fair, “and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.
“It exaggerated the characters, and I had a hard time with it on some days. I'm playing such a bitch. Why is she being such a killjoy? Why is this how you're portraying women?”
Images: Rex Features