Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Knocked Up

“Knocked Up”

USA. 2007. Written and directed by Judd Apatow. Starring: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel and Jay Baruschel.

Rating: ★★½

There’s a perfectly good movie begging to get out of “Knocked Up” and I wish the filmmakers had tried to find it. As his earlier effort, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” did, writer and director Judd Apatow attempts to mesh raunchy humor with a human relationship drama. Whereas “Virgin” treaded that fine line with very successful and humorous results, “Knocked Up” ultimately slips off the tightrope.

Like “Virgin,” this movie also has a basic high-concept premise. It introduces Ben (Seth Rogen), an all-around pot-smoking slacker, and Allison (Katherine Heigl), an upwardly mobile “E! Entertainment” reporter. The two meet at a bar, celebrate, get drunk and have a one-night stand. Eight weeks later, she informs him she is pregnant. Despite their reluctance, she decides she is going to keep the baby and they decide to pursue a relationship and perhaps marriage. They turn for support to Allison’s sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her husband, Pete (Paul Rudd).

I like the movie’s basic plot about two people who actually try to deal with the consequences of a mistake instead of running from it. What they have done is irresponsible but they try to make the best of the situation for the baby. Allison in particular is very understanding with Ben, who is not exactly a role model figure, as he loafs all day with his slacker buddies smoking dope and trying to start a website that will keep track of female nudity in the movies.

The first act of the movie showing Ben and his friends is frequently funny if a little politically incorrect and quite raunchy. Of course, a lot of the humor is based on shock value at the sordid comments the guys make. But they also make various humorous references to modern movies all the way from “Back to the Future” and “Total Recall” to “Munich” and “Spider-Man 3.” What I found interesting is the double irony Apatow shows in how much our perceptions and outlook on life are influenced and altered by movies. In a later scene, Pete comments, “Marriage is like an unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond.”

The film eventually blends in elements of a relationships and gender drama in the style of Nick Hornby. There are some well-written, genuine moments when the two couples get into arguments about what a man and woman want. Men need their camaraderie to do guy things while women deal with how they fear they will be less liked as they lose their youth. One of the things the movie suggests is the prevalent gender dichotomy, as when Ben and Pete are able to go to Vegas and have a good if decadent time while Allison and Debbie cannot get into a singles bar because they look old or pregnant.

The screenplay falls slightly short, however, in actually coming up with a way of reconciliation. The Nick Hornby adaptation, “Fever Pitch” from 2005, which delved into similar material regarding a successful career woman trying to understand a man obsessed with the Red Sox, came up with a sweet compromise in its resolution. Here, however, the movie seems to avoid an actual confrontation of the issues it brings up as we get the inevitable brief separation among the couples. I personally wanted to see more of a compromise happening between the two genders because that’s what true relationships are all about.

What becomes a bigger and more grating problem as the movie wears on though is actually Ben and his slacker friends. “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” despite its surrounding, pervasive bawdy humor, had a strong and naive center in Andy Stitzer, who was almost driven mad by the rude antics his friends put him through, generating many of that film's biggest laughs. Ben, on the other hand, is part of the misogynistic slacker lifestyle so we wait for him to change and better himself for Allison. But the film seems a little too flippant about showing his transformation because it wants it both ways by simultaneously trying to milk more dirty humor out of Ben and his buddies, which start to wear thin after a while. The point only worsens when the last act of the movie intercuts scenes of Allison in labor with the slacker guys acting like jerks the entire time in the hospital lounge. That includes a rather distasteful nod to the documentary, "Murderball" where two of the guys have a race on wheelchairs acting like quadriplegics.

Comedic geniuses like Charlie Chaplin brilliantly married hilarious, innocent slapstick comedy with touching sentiment in the 1920s and 30s. I wrote in my review of Chaplin’s great “City Lights” that “humor based on lewd dialogue and bodily fluids really give us nervous laughs by testing our thresholds for gross-out material.” Perhaps it shows the passing of generations that humor these days is always crude and vulgar but meshing that style of comedy with drama can create an uneasy mix. Maybe it’s time for Apatow to make a movie with better jokes to accompany his human drama.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with your critique of "Knocked Up". It should have been a much better film.......if only the director had avoided the gross humor of the friends and deleted most of their scenes. Much of that was unfunny and done for shock value only....debasing the otherwise good script and fine actors. The "friends added nothing to the film with their crassness.....in fact, I disliked the film because of them.
The main actors are too good to be in a movie that turned out to be 3rd rate, all due to the director's choice to demean the main roles and emphasize the dumb and gross ones.
Judd should have let the other director shoot and edit the film, and it might have been great.