2007Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd
ith his perpetual five o’clock shadow, unruly mop of curls, plump cheeks, and double chin, it’s hard to imagine an actor less suited for Hollywood stardom than Seth Rogen. But watching him play a romantic lead is one of the many pleasures offered by the new Knocked Up, a screwball comedy about a one-night stand that lasts nine months.
And maybe even longer than that. Rogen plays Ben, an unemployed marijuana connoisseur whose only source of income is the residuals left from a lawsuit brought against the Canadian postal service, who hit him with a truck. He’s thinking of starting his own business, a web site cataloguing nude scenes by famous actresses, but even that takes a backseat to his love of pot, partying, and talking dirty with his gang of loser buddies. Out at a bar, he meets Allison (Katherine Heigl), a gorgeous aspiring anchor for E! Entertainment News. She’s quickly charmed by his goofiness, but he’s too self-conscious to think she’d go for him. As they talk, dance, and drink, you can see his eyes light up with hope—“She likes me, really!” Eventually, she invites him back to her place for a round of awkward, sweaty—mistakenly unsafe—sex. The next morning, she stares at his chubby bare ass with an expression mixing guilt and nausea (in a nice touch, she’s already wearing her finest business clothes, as if her immediate response to regret was to cloak herself in responsibility). She reluctantly goes to breakfast with Ben, but he knows—and we know—she’ll never see him again (his phone’s been shut off, so he gives her his e-mail address at the nudie site instead). After she leaves him with his coffee, Ben says to himself, “That was brutal.”
Eight weeks later, she realizes she’s pregnant.
Writer-director Judd Apatow is a veteran of film and TV, having created a handful of shows and produced or written nearly a dozen films. Knocked Up is his second turn as a director, after last year’s surprise hit The 40 Year Old Virgin; both share a fondness for raw talk, unexpected romantic pairings, characters living in a perpetual adolescence, and wonderfully straightforward titles. Like Virgin, Knocked Up is an easy sell because of its conceptual simplicity: the title alone provides character, comedy, and situation. Both appear on first glance to conform to the standard trend for raunchy studio comedies, but this surface simplicity provides cover for something deeper, gentler, and surprisingly touching. Appearances to the contrary, Apatow isn’t writing about sex—he’s just refreshingly honest about it. He’s actually interested in relationships, commitment, monogamy—all the boring stuff that most people—hell, all people—can’t live without.
I think he’s found his man in Seth Rogen. Steve Carell gave a star-making performance as the titular Virgin, but there was something too slick and sharp about the way he glided through the movie—it was tough to believe that a guy that looked and acted like Steve Carell could ever want for love or sex. But Rogen, with his doughy frame and shaggy looks, is the far more approachable hero. For once, here is an actor that looks and acts like most of the people in his audience. The endless pleasure of Knocked Up lies in watching him win over Allison (in a moment of drunken candor he says: “Wow—you’re much prettier than me!”) with all his awkward tics, goofiness, and verbal diarrhea intact. It feels real. Women in movies never go for a guy like Rogen; in real life, they always do.
Heigl has the tougher part as straight man here, but she navigates Allison’s various mood swings, embarrassing body changes, and awkward conversations with graceful aplomb. Knocked Up also finds room for an array of supporting performers, of whom Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann stand out as a squabbling married couple who come to represent a cautionary tale for Ben and Allison. Like Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks before him, Apatow fills his comedies with wacky, neurotic minor characters, all of whom get the best laugh lines—from a hot-tempered gynecologist to Rudd and Mann’s cute-as-a-button kids. And he bucks the American Pie trend of gross-out gags that the laziest viewer can spot a mile away, instead getting his biggest laughs from bits of pop culture arcana, embarrassing faux pas, and the occasional well-timed crack about somebody’s beard making them resemble, variously, Serpico, a terrorist, Cat Stevens, Chewbacca, or Jesus.
I have almost nothing negative to say about Knocked Up. If I were to nitpick, I could say that it starts and ends too fast, while dragging a bit going into the home stretch, but as I left the theater, still awash in the thrill of its clever, frank, funny euphoria, the predominant impression was one of joy. I’m glad that Apatow’s managed to find a way to write about modern life without having to resort to art-house posturing, or dumb it down for the mouth-breathing masses. Here is a comedy, peopled with flawed, sometimes unlikable characters struggling to find themselves in a world that—for once—feels like our own. This isn’t a masterpiece. It’s a very good modern romantic comedy. The nagging question that sticks with me is, Why is this the only one?
Knocked Up is currently playing in wide release
By: Patrick McKay
Published on: 2007-06-07