Well, to be honest I've been kinda avoiding Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, despite it getting stellar reviews and my being a big fan of Apatow (and Seth Rogen's) Freaks & Geeks, as, frankly, nothing makes you feel single like a one-dollar bill quite like seeing what's obviously the date movie of the summer by yourself. But, perhaps steeled by the not-inconsiderable amount of baby-time I logged last weekend at my college reunion (the Harvard class of '97 seems to have been very productive in that regard), I finally ventured into the theater this past week to catch Apatow's flick (on a double bill with Ocean's Thirteen, in fact.) And the verdict? Well, as you've probably heard, Knocked Up is both very, very funny and surprisingly real. For one, it's got a funky, down-to-earth, DIY, lived-in feel that helps make it, along with Hot Fuzz, the most satisfying comedy of 2007 thus far. But Knocked Up also manages to be rather touching by the end, in a way that feels totally earned. The film doesn't rely on cutesy baby antics or wildly improbable romantic flourishes to garner your affection, but rather on showing flawed, realistic, well-meaning people trying to make the best out of the complicated situations that make up life, be they modern love, marriage, or an unplanned pregnancy. As such, Knocked Up turns out to be a knock-out, and a very welcome special delivery.
When we first meet Ben (Seth Rogen), he's rapping along karaoke-style with ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," restaging drunken American Gladiator in his backyard, and getting egregiously stoned with his friends/roommates/business partners (they're creating a website which tells you at what moment in what films celebs get naked), among them Jason Segel (a.k.a. Nick of Freaks & Geeks, and James Franco/Daniel is skulking around too!) and a guy who's the spitting image of a young Chris Penn (Jonah Hill). In short, he's not exactly father material just yet. Meanwhile, the smart, pretty, and considerably more adult Alison (Katherine Heigl) is currently living with her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow's real-life wife) and brother-in-law Pete (Paul Rudd, thankfully out of the Frat Pack for a bit) and working behind-the-scenes at the E! television network (which is staffed by Alan Tudyk and the current SNL all-stars). And, when Alison, out to celebate a promotion one night, runs into Ben at a nightclub, beers, dancing, and tequila shots work their inexorable mojo, and, lo, the Miracle of Life occurs (Well, after some confusion over contraception.) So, confronted with the fact of a baby on the way, Alison and Ben start over again, and try to ascertain if a drunken one-night stand between two seemingly incompatible people can form the basis for...well, anything, really. A healthy relationship would be nice.
Some intermittently funny, gross-out juvenilia notwithstanding (for example, the unsavory reasons for a pink-eye epidemic among Ben's crew), Knocked Up actually turns out to be one of the most adult comedies I've seen in years. As seen on F&G, Apatow (and his wife, Mann) clearly have a keen ear for relationships and how they work -- or don't. As such, the story of Ben & Alison -- and its counterpart down the line, of Leslie & Pete -- feel breathtakingly real most of the time, both in the unspoken details of the courting (Allison is seen wearing Ben's hipster t-shirts later on in the movie, Ben quietly switches to collars) and the axes of fracture that emerge among the couples (for example, the dark secret Pete hides from his wife and family -- you'll see.) Among other things, Knocked Up perfectly captures how an innocuous statement about other people's troubles all too often weirdly conflagrates into a knock-down drag-out with your significant other, or how we all tend to harbor past grievances to use as talking points when the time is right, only to regret it deeply later (Note Allison on Ben's weed habits, or when Ben decides to reveal the sex of the child.) And the film not only captures certain fundamental relationship dynamics -- see also Debbie on Spiderman 3, or on how she gets her husband to change -- but also how, even in the midst of these well-worn tropes, individual people are invariably complicated and surprising. (In fact, the only detail that rang really false to me is Ben and Pete celebrating their male independence by going to see Cirque de Soleil in Vegas psychoactively enhanced. Cirque de Soleil...really?) Throw in a slew of knowing pop culture references throughout -- Matthew Fox, James Gandolfini, Robin Williams' knuckles, Serpico, and Cat Stevens are all punch lines at one point or another -- and I was sold hook, line, and sinker. In short, Knocked Up will all too likely be the comedy of the summer, if not one for the ages, and -- particularly if you've been privy to the dating/marriage world in recent years -- it's worth at the very least a one-night stand.[First appeared in Ghost in the Machine, 6/15/07.]