This Friday Night at the Movies, I saw Knocked Up, along with many other people. Critics everywhere seem to be climbing all over each other to gush about this movie I would like to take this opportunity to hitch myself to the praise-wagon. This movie was kick-ass. It managed to walk the proverbial tightrope by being both funny and heartwarming without becoming ridiculous or schmaltzy. (At least not too much).
The plot is simple. Seth Rogen’s likeable slacker Ben somehow manages to finagle a one-night stand with Katherine Heigl’s character, an E! reporter who is celebrating her recent promotion with alcohol and some bad choices. Said choice lead to her uterus getting a new tenant when she attains the titular state. Then the two characters have to try to forge some kind of relationship despite their vast differences. He smokes pot and watches movies all day with his stoner friends to find celebrity nudity for a website they half-assedly plan to start. She is trying to make the jump to on-air personality, and is ambitious and together in ways the unshaved Canadian is not. Can these crazy kids make it work?
Yes. Yes, they can. Because this is Hollywood. But writer/director Judd Apatow has a hell of a time showing us how they get there. Like his previous effort, the Forty-Year Old Virgin this film showcases Apatow’s ability to mine everyday life and tired cliches about relationships for laughs and genuinely engaging storytelling. Comparisons are inevitable, but I enjoyed Knocked Up even more than its predecessor (although I liked that one quite a bit). While there are more than a few puerile sight gags and an extended dual homage to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Swingers, the real meat of the comedy is in exploring the growing relationship between Ben and Alison as they both mature and come together over the course of her pregnancy. There relationship is balanced between the two extremes of Ben’s fun-loving roommates who seem to have an existence entirely free of responsibility and Alison’s sister and her husband whose married life has devolved into a never-ending episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, complete with angry wife and smothered husband. The question for Ben and Alison is how to make a life for themselves somewhere in the middle.
Some of the complaints that came up during the post-movie rehash on the train ride home revolved around the likelihood that a schmuck like Ben:
would ever be able to get someone like Alison:
to allow him to talk to her, much less impregnate her. Beyond the physical discrepancies he is broke, lazy, and kind of a dick. It’s one of those moments where the film makers ask us to suspend our disbelief and just buy into the story. It’s a leap I am willing to make, in no small part because I am something of an unshaved schmuck. If Seth Rogen can do it, it keeps hope alive for all the awkward, sweaty, and chubby dudes out there. Besides, like me, he could be charming in fits and starts and he is sweetly committed to their relationship. I don’t know if the relationship is that unbelievable. You routinely see incredibly hot women walking arm-in-arm with some pretty goofy looking assholes. But I think those assholes probably have a little more going for them than Rogen’s character does. Alison’s motivation for not only deciding to have the child, but attempting to have a relationship with the father after only a drunken night and awkward breakfast isn’t fully addressed, but without it we wouldn’t have the rest of the film so whatever.
Some critics see the distinction between the juvenile fun of the all-male crowd of Ben’s buddies and the mature, grown-up world of Alison’s sister as being too obvious. I can’t disagree, but I think the fun comes watching the characters navigate between them as they become more mature. If there wasn’t any kind of growth, would anyone care to see the film? And coming to terms with responsibility and family is a big part of growing up, even if it is a little safe and universal.
What I loved is how the laughs are low-key. There are no big obvious comedic set-pieces, the jokes build organically within the plot (except for the whole Vegas departure, but I liked it anyway). Aside from a few graphic images at the very end, there isn’t any gross-out humor to be found. It’s just people talking and interacting with each other. And the Judd Apatow players work well together to make the scenes work. For real though, I’d like to see him make a movie with an all-new cast.
It is a bit long, but that is the only real complaint I can make. And I wasn’t even shifting from butt-cheek to butt-cheek or looking at my watch. Go see it, if you haven’t already.
Matt Feeney talks about it here.