Dirty, Ugly, Funny Slackers
Knocked Up, a comedy that clocks-in at over two hours, has a confident studio behind it. In this case, Universal's optimism stems from the success of writer, director and producer Judd Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin in 2005. But his powers of persuasion must also have played a part, and one wonders whether his arguments against trimming Knocked Up were as profanity-laced as the movie itself?
To call it the Borat! of romantic comedies captures both its vulgarity and laugh quotients. As raunchy a mainstream movie as has ever been released, it doesn't have the scathing political or social subtext of Sacha Baron Cohen's mock documentary. Beneath its smutty coating lies a sweet but not gooey center.
The topical, media-saturated jokes in Knocked Up reflect the Zeitgeist, which doesn't mean Apatow is trying to be deep. His aim is to entertain and he succeeds. Merely tapping into a generational sense of humor can't guarantee something will be funny, but the foul material here is often clever. That's good news for the movie's commercial prospects and bad news for those who care about the tone of popular culture.
The euphemistic title just scratches the surface. In addition to non-stop expletives and out-of-wedlock pregnancy, there are explicit sexual situations and discussions running the gamut from condoms to autoerotic asphyxiation, along with toilet humor -- you'll learn how one contracts conjunctivitis -- pot smoking and 'shrooming, and countless other bawdy bits.
The beauty-and-the-geek plot is simplicity itself -- a classic romantic fairytale in many respects. To celebrate her promotion at the E! cable television network, foxy Alison (Katherine Heigl) goes to an LA nightclub with her married sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) where she meets Ben (Seth Rogen). To call 23-year-old Ben a schlubby slacker doesn't do him justice. He's a perpetually stoned Teddy Bear with $117 in the bank, no prospects and a circle of loser friends. In his favor, he's quick-witted and his father is played by actor-writer-director Harold Ramis (one of Apatow's nods to influential comedies of the 1980s).
Alison and Ben get drunk and have sex. Eight weeks later, she learns she's pregnant. They haven't communicated since their one-night stand, but when she breaks the news they try to make a go of it. While we're asked to believe they fall in love, one of the movie's virtues is that Apatow doesn't oversell the romance. It's all about pushing the envelope and scoring one for less attractive, socially awkward males.
The strongest argument against dismissing Knocked Up as a sexist geek fantasy is that Rogen bares his behind while Heigl keeps her breasts tightly corseted. If there was ever a context in which an actress could show some serious skin, this is it. And it's a little disappointing Heigl doesn't. Presumably, the nudity double standard can be chalked-up to the Grey's Anatomy star's rising popularity and cautious advisors.
A more revealing feature of Knocked Up is that the only reference points are movies, television shows, and web sites. Dissing Everybody Loves Raymond and Matthew Fox's acting ability (and, more lovingly, Dom Deluise and James Gandolfini) is hip but easy. Having Ryan Seacrest, Steve Carell and James Franco poke fun at themselves is annoyingly insular. This is all supposed to signal that while Apatow, his collaborators and the target audience have deep roots and everything invested in the entertainment industry, they don't take it too seriously.
The formal weakness of the film involves its length: Apatow doesn't know where and how to stop. For example, the counterpoint provided by Debbie's rocky marriage to Pete (Paul Rudd) seems unnecessary. Peel away twenty-five percent of the cursing and you'd have a better movie, not simply because it would be twenty-five minutes shorter. But the harsh mode of interpersonal communication can't be called gratuitous because excess is the fundamental point of Knocked Up.
Much more worrisome is the fact that, nowadays, wanting to marry Katherine Heigl and take responsibility for the child you've fathered with her qualifies as sensitive and noble behavior.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated "R" for sexual content, drug use and language.)