Sunday, November 25, 2012

Oh Judd Apatow, You (Sort Of) Make Me Laugh! Knocked Up.

The Good: Moments of humor, Interesting enough characters, Good casting
The Bad: Nothing extraordinary on the DVD bonus features, Very predictable
The Basics: In a just-funny-enough-to-recommend movie, Judd Apatow uses Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl to tell the story of a stoner and a successful woman who have sex, then work to fall in love.

Culturally, it does seem like the United States is at a place where pop-culture is rather preoccupied with the whole concept of movies that start with sex and let the love come later. This was a pretty weak concept in Juno (reviewed here!), but it makes for a very simple and direct premise for Knocked Up. Knocked Up is another young stoner comedy film from writer and director Judd Apatow. I became familiar with Apatow's work when he was half of the creative genius behind the one-season-wonder Freaks & Geeks (reviewed here!). Since then, Apatow had been a writer and director who seems to have gone for some of the most obvious comedies and there has been a slight sense of disappointment from those of us who began our appreciation of his works with what appears to have been the high point in his career.

Knocked Up does not change that; while far funnier than many of Apatow's other cinematic attempts, it is still far too obvious and less well-developed than it could be. This makes for good, casual viewing for a night when one needs a laugh from something they do not have to think too much about, but it's a tough sell to argue in favor of buying the DVD. This movie has pretty limited appeal outside the target demographic of young college students who might well get drunk at a club, have fairly anonymous sex and end up pregnant. One hopes that is an ever-shrinking demographic, but I'm not holding my breath.

Ben Stone is a slacker who is living with his four friends and living off money from a lawsuit, money which is rapidly drying up. Ben and his housemates spend much of their time getting stoned and watching movies to find what celebrities get naked and at what point in a movie they are shown naked to make a website with that information. One night, after being promoted at work to on-air talent at E!, Alison Scott goes out to a club with her sister, Debbie. After a few too many drinks, Alison takes Ben back to her home - the pool house at Debbie's - and the two have sex.

Eight weeks later, Alison realizes that she is pregnant and decides to keep the baby. She informs Ben of the pregnancy and - despite his limited means and his initial freaked out reaction - Ben decides he wants to be there for Alison and his child. As a result, Ben and Alison begin dating in earnest to try to prepare for parenthood and in the process, they try to fall in love.

Knocked Up is a remarkably formulaic romantic comedy. Two people who have no real connection and few shared values begin to see the value in one another's lifestyles. There are the usual predictable events including attraction, repulsion, acceptance, misunderstanding and then resolution. This could pretty much be one of the defining films for following a formula for romantic comedy. Like many romantic comedies, Ben and Alison's relationship is set opposite a more obvious and loving relationship, that of Pete and Debbie. Pete and Debbie have their own fallings out which contrasts with Ben and Alison's and allows Ben to make a more normal and likable companion than his four stoner buddies.

The friendship between Ben and Pete allows Apatow to actually say something useful with Knocked Up, though, even if it is only one line in the entire movie. Pete's issue with Debbie has him sneaking around with his friends at odd times just to have some "me time," which is - of course - uncovered in the course of the movie. In trying to resolve this pseudo conflict, Pete realizes that the biggest problem in his marriage is that he has a wife who wants to spend more time with him. This is a concept too infrequently realized in any type film and it is refreshing to see it be realized in Knocked Up.

This also contrasts with the relationships of Ben's friends. Rarely has a more pathetic collection of miscreants been collected on film and while the sheer pointlessness of their attempted business venture eventually becomes revealed, far too much of their screentime is dumb jokes performed by post-teens who ought to know better. The peak of this is the character of Jodi who enters the household as Ben departs. She speaks in a giggly incomprehensible dialect that utterly wastes the viewer's time. Bad enough to be subjected to several minutes of stoners being idiots; even worse to have to watch the idiotic attempt to portray one of their wasted girlfriends.

Knocked Up manages to work - when it does - because even though it follows a remarkably predictable formula for romantic comedies, the concept is presented in a way that makes it feel just new enough to be amusing. Watching Ben and Alison learn about one another and discover the simple charms each possesses almost makes up for the fact that the viewer can see what is coming about a mile off.

Fans of Freaks & Geeks will enjoy seeing Knocked Up in that it stars Judd Apatow regular Seth Rogen, as well as Freaks & Geeks alums Jason Segel, Martin Starr (who looks nothing like he did in his television role) and a cameo by James Franco. Fans of Grey's Anatomy will no doubt enjoy seeing Katherine Heigl in a role outside her star-making role on that. Knocked Up works in part because when they sit opposite one another, Rogen and Heigl are able to portray a realistic amount of romantic chemistry.

Rogen has an unassuming quality to him and a look that is anything but Hollywood typical. As a result, Apatow frequently uses him in roles where he appears as a slouching slacker. In Knocked Up, Rogen is allowed just enough moments where his character assumes the mantle of respectability and comes into his own in a way that implies he might have the chops for serious drama. Despite things like the on-air prank that makes up the "topless" scene on the unrated DVD, Rogen has moments where he plays Ben quiet and contemplative in a way that genuinely works for him.

It is not a real surprise, for most viewers, that Katherine Heigl holds her own with Rogen. She has all of the qualities for a classic Hollywood star from the figure to her delivery of serious lines. She plays the straightman throughout the movie, while Rogen plays wacky. Heigl is a good choice, though (Anne Hathaway turned down the role) and she lends a seriousness that helps to exaggerate Rogen's absurdities. At the right moments, though, Heigl illustrates she has her own decent sense of comic timing, playing out a few physical gags in the movie.

Largely, though, Knocked Up is an unsurprising romantic comedy that unfolds in exactly the way a seasoned cinephile might expect it to. On DVD, there are a bevy of deleted scenes, a commentary track and a few alternate scenes, including a gag topless scene (It's not Heigl). The film looks good on DVD, but it's one I recommend solely for the rental as opposed to the buy. At least it is not unfunny and it's a fair way to kill an afternoon.

For other works with Seth Rogen, check out my reviews of:
The Green Hornet
Monsters Vs. Aliens
Observe And Report
Zack And Miri Make A Porno
Pineapple Express
Step Brothers
The 40 Year Old Virgin
Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy
Donnie Darko


For other film reviews, be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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