Knocked Up (2007)
Judd Apatow scores again. The man has a long history of creating memorable and heartwarming character-based comedy, and Knocked Up is another winner. This man creates thoroughly human and engaging stories that focus on our own foibles and triumphs. Apatow wrote and directed yet another poignant, clever, and uproarious comedy that has so much more below the surface and becomes universally appealing.
Alison (Katherine Heigl) is out on the town celebrating her promotion at the E! Entertainment Channel. She’s going to go from behind the camera to in front of the camera. It’s at this Los Angeles club where she meets Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), a doughy Jewish slob of a man content to drift through life penniless and high. Their night of partying leads to a drunken one-night stand. Eight weeks later Alison is going through extreme nausea and can’t figure out what kind of flu bug she has, that is, until she remembers her one night out. She locates Ben and informs him that she is pregnant and, yes, he is the father. The two decide to try and make it work, forging a relationship as they plan on becoming parents. Alison’s sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd) and their two kids are a potential glimpse into the future. Pete and Ben hit it off real well, to the point that Alison feels like her mate might not be the one for her even if his DNA is growing inside.
Naturally, this is a comedy where sex is at its very inception. The humor is ribald and playfully profane. I believe one of the greatest compliments you can give a comedy is when you cannot single out a single set piece or moment as an instant standout. Knocked Up is packed with many wildly funny scenes but it also has killer one-liners from start to finish and sharp pop-culture references (Ben on an exercise bike: “Matthew Fox? From Lost? You know what’s interesting about that guy? Absolutely nothing.”). Ben credits the flick Munich for the ability to get Jews laid. Ben watches the 2003 version of Cheaper by the Dozen with horror, saying that 12 kids is no laughing matter. The roommates are plotting a flesh-friendly website that notes the time and location of celebrity nudity in films. This commercial venture plays right into the frat house lifestyle for this band of stoners that bet their friend not to shave his beard for a year for free rent.
Knocked Up is bawdy and hilarious, sure, but it’s also far more realistic and a lot more emotionally involving than any romantic comedy Hollywood has offered in years. Apatow seems to have mined his personal parental experiences for a lot of hard-earned truths. The film is most natural when it showcases the male perspective of prolonged adolescence and an unplanned pregnancy, but Knocked Up also has a mature and thoughtful view on marriage and feminism. We see the array of personal challenges a woman would go through but the movie still manage to slip in humor amidst the uncertainty. There’s a montage looking for the right gynecologist. The gauntlet of sexual positions is explored while pregnant, with Ben afraid that his child’s first impression will be daddy’s manhood constantly poking it. When Alison and Debbie go shopping for pregnancy tests we see them fill their cart with every kind of tests, and then test after test comes back positive. “Hey this one has a smiley face,” says Debbie, before realizing, “Oh, that’s not a good thing.” Debbie then tests the reliability of the tests herself and for a brief moment panics when she thinks she may be pregnant for a third time. She then calms down and says, sarcasm-free, “Whoa, that would have sucked.” The inclusion of Debbie and Pete offers a whole other relationship viewpoint, something that Alison and Ben can learn from. She’s paranoid and blunt, and he’s apathetic and passive-aggressive, and Alison is terrified that she and Ben are doomed to a similar fate. The insights into marriage and secrecy are realistic and give the film so much more meat to its bones. This isn’t just a movie about what to do with an unplanned pregnancy; it’s fully about male-female dynamics and what it takes to make a family work.
In the end, you really care about these characters because Knocked Up is a raunch-fest that has a sweet gooey center of sentiment. Ben is pushed into adulthood by this unexpected development and, as they say, puts away childish things after a lot of trial and error. There’s an undercurrent of emotional vexation under most of the comedy, like when Pete confesses that he doesn’t know if he can accept love, and Ben cannot pity this because he sees his love being rejected. Alison doesn’t quite have as big of an arc, but she never gets callously cast to the side and forgotten. She too has a lot of growing up to do very quickly, and when both characters welcome their newborn into this world it’s rather moving and exciting to experience it alongside them. Ben’s confesses to his child that not putting a condom on was the best decision he ever made. In any other movie this ending conversation might seem trite or hokey, but Apatow has paid so close attention to his characters that the emotional payoff is earned and rewarding.
Another hallmark of an Apatow production is how perfect the cast seems with one another. There’s a real camaraderie with the actors and it produces natural onscreen chemistry and amusing improvisation. Rogen and Rudd, teaming again after 40-Year Old Virgin, can riff off one another for a whole movie and I would gladly pay to watch. I loved when the two boys go to Vegas, take mushrooms, see Cirque Solei, and then freak out in their hotel room (“There are five different kinds of chairs in this room”). I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes, and I’m sure the crux of this moment was born from the freestyle exchange between the actors. Ben’s roommates have a believable kinship to them as a collection of amicable oddballs and stoners. Mann and Heigl also seem believable as sisters, much more so than would Anne Hathaway, who was originally cast as Alison but left due to creative differences (I guess the difference was she didn’t wish to be apart of a good movie). The Knocked Up cast work together like a truly wonderful team that appreciates the material and each other.
Rogen is destined for stardom after this movie. He can make anything funny with exceptional comic timing and line delivery that never feels forced. Hearing his unique giggle at the end of jokes, you can sense that this sweet and amiable guy would crack himself up and for good reason. Rogen was great in 40-Year Old Virgin and is even better in a bigger dose. Heigl gets to play more familiar notes, from stressing that work will discover her little bun in the oven to the expected birthing scream session. She has a good rapport with Rogen and brings a lot of warmth to her role. Rudd is so effortlessly charming and easy going. Mann plays a perfect bitch, but she also has a nice scene where she explodes at the realization that her days of youth are finally behind her. Special mention must go out to Kristen Wiig. She steals every scene she’s in as an E! Channel employee that makes plenty off-the-cuff passive insults against Alison during two staffer meetings.
I’ve read online that several leftist bloggers are angry and flabbergasted that Alison does not get an abortion. They argue Ben is a fat and unappealing slob, she’s an attractive career woman, and not having an abortion in this situation is, as one put it, “stupid.” Excuse me, but this may be the first mainstream comedy that actually discusses the prospects of an abortion (or as one character deems it, a “smashortion,” as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of his roommate). I also take umbrage to anyone saying 1) choosing not to have an abortion is a bad decision, and 2) that these critics would be so daft to miss the point that if Alison had an abortion there would be NO MOVIE.
Knocked Up is a very funny and very wonderful sex comedy for adults, but it also happens to be an endearing and heartfelt romance. The cast is excellent, the comedy rarely misses a beat, and Apatow is a instant classic hitmaker. Just like The 40-Year Old Virgin, Apatow has explored a deeply personal topic for all the comedy and pathos he could wring from the material. Knocked Up is nothing short of a knockout. I hope you’re happy with your decision Anne Hathaway. I know I am.
Nate’s Grade: A
Posted on June 1, 2007, in 2007 Movies and tagged comedy, drama, harold ramis, james franco, jason segel, jay baruchel, jonah hill, judd apatow, katherine heigl, ken jeong, kristen wiig, leslie mann, motherhood, paul rudd, romance, seth rogen. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.