Directed by Judd Apatow
The movie opens by introducing Ben (Seth Rogen) and his slacker friends, chronic stoners who are “working” on setting up a website that will make them all rich. As a contrast, Katherine Heigl’s Alison is a serious career woman working at the E! Network, and after being promoted to doing on-air interviews, she and her older sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) go out to a club where Alison and Ben meet. One drink leads to another and they wind up back at her place for a night of sex. The next day, Alison realizes what a big mistake she made, but eight weeks later, as her career is taking off, that mistake gets even worse as she discovers she’s pregnant. Warily, she decides to get in touch with Ben, realizing that he has no real prospects as a boyfriend let alone a father, and is surprised to find that he’s willing to help her, as this odd couple works together to deal with the ups and downs of pregnancy and childbirth together.
If there’s any doubt that Apatow is a genius at finding the comedy of human nature than it’s dispelled by one of the most impressive sophomore efforts in recent memory. It’s a surprisingly simple premise using a similar formula as “40-Year-Old Virgin” to set-up situations and characters that offer extensive laughs without any worries of Apatow accidentally repeating himself. As much inherent humor as there is in being pregnant and having kids–as seen in the ’80s classic “She’s Having a Baby”–there’s a greater level of humor found in the grossly mismatched couple that is Seth Rogen and Katharine Heigl. With absolutely no background as a leading actor, Seth Rogen is extremely likable and sweet as the film’s romantic center, to the point where we’re always on his side even when he says and does the stupid things that men are so prone to doing. (You have to love Apatow’s ability to create bonafide heroes out of everyday losers, probably a good reason why so many guys love his movies.) It goes without saying that Heigl looks amazing even in some of the more unflattering scenes, and though she mostly settles for playing the straight woman, the premise would never have worked if she weren’t game at playing along and being the perfect heroine that guys can drool over, yet women will respect and admire. (And yes, the opposite is true, too.)
After setting up this unlikely relationship, “Knocked Up” proceeds to broach every single taboo about sex and pregnancy possible with unbelievable levels of raunchy, explicit humor, many of its funniest jokes deliberately crossing the line of good taste. Since humor is so subjective, it’s hard to determine who and how different people might react, but there’s more than enough variety in the humor that for every joke that only guys will understand/appreciate, there’s something for the ladies. That’s what’s so great about the universal nature of Apatow’s sense of humor, which tends to be based on characters, relationships and situations that people can relate to, rather than resorting to dumb physical humor. The stoner humor might have a more limited humor, but Alison’s job at E! gives Apatow a chance to take potshots at the entertainment business, as exemplified by “Saturday Night Live”‘s Kristen Wiig stealing scenes as Alison’s snarky coworker and a hilarious self-deprecating rant by Ryan Seacrest.
The movie goes off on a bit of a tangent as it starts to deal with Debbie’s martial problems with her unsupportive husband Pete (played by another “Virgin” vet Paul Rudd), which might have allowed Apatow a chance to exorcise some of his own marital demons by putting his actual family into the movie. Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, who played the aggressively drunk driver in “Virgin,” is absolutely hysterical every time she opens her mouth and raises her distinctive voice, and even Apatow’s daughters get into the act, stealing a few scenes from the more experienced comic actors who have the misfortune of being shown-up by these future stars. Stepping in as the head of Apatow’s household, Rudd winds up playing a far less sympathetic character this time, but anyone who loved his scenes with Rogen in “Virgin” will laugh just as hard at some of their bits together, including one that may finally justify the existence of Cirque du Soleil.
Besides being one of today’s sharpest comedy writers, Apatow once again proves his genius at finding talent when casting the smaller supporting parts, because even the most peripheral character is able to deliver a number of laughs, whether it be Harold Ramis as Ben’s Dad, a bouncer at a nightclub or Ben’s slacker friends, a Greek chorus of morons who chime in to offer their bad advice and worse suggestions at every turn. Jonah Hill (the pesky guy in the eBay store) continues to prove his strength as a comic actorhe’ll be starring in the Rogen-penned “Superbad” next–but characters played by Jay Baruchel and Jason Segel also bring a lot to the movie, as does Martin Starr, who spends most of the movie growing a beard based on a bet set-up early in the movie.
Things tend to get a bit too serious in attempt to add a bit of conflict and tension to the third act, but it never fully strays away from the fact that it’s a comedy, and it comes out of its momentary lapse of drama on the type of crowd-pleasing note that will have people immediately making plans to see it again.
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