June 9, 2007

Knocked Up

Another funny and human comedy from Judd Apatow, the writer-director of The Forty-Year OId Virgin. Alison (Katherine Heigl) is a gorgeous PA on the E! cable network who gets a breakout promotion to on-air personality. She's about to become a big TV star, so to celebrate, she goes out clubbing and gets drunk. She gets pregnant during a drunken 3am hookup with Ben (Seth Rogen), a sweet, furry, occasionally charming slacker. In the classic knocked up scenario, the man ditches his responsibility and fucks over the woman. In this story, the guy is the ugly duckling who's always been fucked over by women. Ben's the one who wants to stick around, but will Alison agree to give him a chance?

The more Alison learns about Ben, the more conflicted she is. On the original hookup night, he only made it into her bed thanks to a brief moment of charm, a "completely harmless guy" vibe, and a lot of tequila. The next morning, she views his soft ass in her bed and immediately starts regretting her non-choice. Over a brutal cup of coffee, she learns that besides being sweet and thoughtful, he's also crude, penniless, and unemployed.

So why does Alison decide to give Ben a chance? Apatow crafted this part of the movie very carefully, to make it plausible that a gorgeous blonde with money and fame around the corner would try and invite this unpromising stranger into her life. Apatow tries to play it as if Alison starts falling in love with Ben, but when Alison first says "I love you", we didn't buy it.

Alison's living in her sister's guest house (much like Kato Kaelin, and Matthew on The New Adventures of Old Christine), therefore, this gestating relationship takes place under the judging eyes of Debbie, played with great humor, finesse, and sadness by Leslie Mann.

Debbie and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd) are Alison and Ben's cautionary tale: they're the prototypical unhappy married couple. Debbie and Pete got married because Debbie got pregnant, and 10 years later, they're both dissatisfied. They love their kids, but its a daily grind to live with each other. Apatow reportedly based this relationship on his own marriage to actress Leslie Mann (who plays Debbie!), and their children play Pete and Debbie's kids in the movie. Their relationship is so well drawn, it's almost uncomfortably realistic at times.

I am so impressed with the care and thoughtfulness that went into making this movie, that I have neglected to talk about how funny it is. It is funny, and crude, and ridiculously rude. But it's all those things in a uniquely mature adult kind of way. I didn't feel like I do when I watch American Pie and that class of comedy- with those films, I feel like an old man watching jokes for 16-year olds. In Knocked Up, I feel like the fart jokes are for the 30-plus club!

Rogen and Heigl are so busy carrying the story that they don't get to be funny very often. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd are both wonderfully funny. Not only is Mann funny when she's barking at people, but also when she breaks down later on the movie. Calling a babysitter a c*** was never so well delivered. Paul Rudd's character shares some of the fatalistic 'what does it all mean" attitude of his character from The Forty-Year Old Virgin: instead of dwelling on his departed girlfriend and his self-imposed celibacy, Pete dwells on his complete inability to feel anything. While watching his kids play with soap bubbles, he remarks "I wish I cared about anything as much as my kids care about bubbles."

Ben lives in a run-down marijuana den with four fellow stoned slackers. Their comic riffing forms the base of comic relief on which the movie rests. Apatow reportedly films hours and hours of footage with this quintet joking around, and through endless preview testing, picked the bits with the best reactions for the movie.

I am holding this movie to quite a high standard, so if it sounds like I didn't like the movie, let me reassure you, I really enjoyed it. I'm just being tough and examining the film with the kind of scrutiny that the latest Ashton Kutcher or Tara Reid comedy doesn't deserve. I happily award an A grade and I look forward to more from Mr Apatow. Next up: Superbad (co-written by Rogen and co-produced by Apatow). (Regal Fenway Stadium 13, with my friend Eve)