Knocked Up (United States, 2007)
For Knocked Up, writer/director Judd Apatow's sophomore feature, the filmmaker has elected to follow pretty much the same formula that made his debut, The 40 Year Old Virgin, such a success. Considering how winning the formula is, it's a safe approach. The often ribald humor is genuinely funny. The characters are endearing. And there's something warm and sweet about the underlying storyline. Apatow is clearly a romantic, even if there's a profane edge to his "love conquers all" worldview. Other filmmakers embarking into the comedy minefield could learn a thing or two from him. He's two for two.
Knocked Up opens by introducing us to the oil-and-water protagonists. Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) is an up-and-coming twentysomething whose professionalism and sunny personality have earned her a promotion at the E! Entertainment network to an on-camera interviewer. The appropriately named Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) is a laid-back slacker whose definition of "work" is watching movies for nude scenes by celebrities that will be used in a database for a Mr. Skin-type website. When he's not doing that, he's either smoking pot or hanging out. On the night of Alison's promotion, she goes out to a club where she runs into Ben. A number of drinks later, the two are rolling around on her bed, and that's where there's a misunderstanding about whether he should wear a condom. Two months later, it becomes clear that there will be more to the Alison and Ben story than a one-night stand. Morning sickness leads to a positive pregnancy test and Alison contacts Ben to give him the news. She decides to keep the baby, despite advice to the contrary from her mother, and he agrees to support her. They decide that it might be a good idea to get to know one another better since one way or another, their lives will be entwined.
In casting Alison, Apatow initially went with Anne Hathaway. When she left the production for "creative differences," he chose one of the hottest young TV stars, Katherine Heigl (who I still remember as the 14-year old from the Gerard Depardieu horror, My Father the Hero). Heigl is perfect for the role: fetching, likeable, and energetic. For Ben, Apatow pulled an actor out of his usual pool - Seth Rogen, who was a sidekick in The 40 Year Old Virgin and also appeared in the TV series Freaks and Geeks, for which Apatow was both a writer and director. Rogen does a solid job presenting Ben's character arc from charismatic, irresponsible loser to assertive, responsible father-to-be.
The supporting cast includes Leslie Mann as Alison's older sister, Debbie. Mann actually has some of the film's most memorable moments, including a profane tirade at a club doorman who won't let her in because she's too old. Mann shows more presence in Knocked Up than in any of her previous films. The always reliable Paul Rudd is Debbie's husband, Pete, who's the perfect picture of a guy whose stressful life has gotten the better of him.
At its heart, Knocked Up is as much a romance as it is a comedy. The film is surprisingly touching, especially as it chronicles the attempts of Alison and Ben to find common ground. These are two people who could fall in love - who want to fall in love - if circumstances will give them the opportunity. The secondary story, which contrasts Debbie and Pete's relationship with that of Alison and Ben, is well handled and doesn't feel like something that was shoehorned in at the last minute to beef up the running time (which is a little long at 128 minutes).
Knocked Up includes plenty of laugh-aloud moments and many more that generate subdued chuckles. Apatow understands what audiences find funny and, more importantly, knows the criticality of comic timing (something increasingly rare in Hollywood). A lot of his jokes work because they are delivered perfectly. The dialogue is sharp, the characters are developed as more than props for gags and pratfalls, and there's a respect for the audience's intelligence that is often not evident in summer movies. Memorable moments include Ryan Seacrest doing a self-parody that William Shatner would love, a few truths about pink-eye, and a delivery room sequence that goes further than I can recall seeing in any other mainstream feature.
It's hard to say whether Apatow has grown with Knocked Up, but he hasn't regressed. The humor is just as edgy and R-rated as it was in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and it's likely that those who enjoyed the previous movie will be as entertained by this one. If more movies were like this, going to see the majority of Hollywood's so-called "comedies" wouldn't be such a dull and joyless experience. Knocked Up could be one of the summer of 2007's sleeper hits. It certainly deserves the distinction.
Knocked Up (United States, 2007)
Cast: Katherine Heigl, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Martin Starr
Screenplay: Judd Apatow
Cinematography: Eric Alan Edwards
Music: Joe Henry, Loudon Wainwright III
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
- (There are no more better movies of Katherine Heigl)