“Knocked Up”, the new comedy written and directed by Judd Apatow (“The 40 Year Old Virgin, TV’s “Freaks & Geeks”), starring Seth Rogen and Kathryn Heigl (TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”), continues the traditions of the director’s previous film; it’s really funny. And for many of the same reasons.
Ben (Rogen) and his friends are a group of slackers. They sit around all day, getting high, trying to figure out the easiest, fastest way to make enough money to sustain their lifestyle. What do they come up with? A website listing the exact moment stars get naked in their films. Strangely, this pursuit doesn’t take up a lot of their time so they sit around and talk, debating the most miniscule things about topics that are the most important thing in the world to them. But to everyone else? They merely shake their heads in disbelief. They make a bet with Martin (Martin Starr) that he can’t go a whole year without shaving. If he loses, he pays their rent for a year. If he wins, they pay his rent for a year. They all live together in a ramshackle house, the type of house with an overgrown yard and half filled pool, in one of the neighborhoods surrounding Los Angeles. One night, Seth and Jason (Jason Sigel) go out to a bar with their friends. As they wait in line to get in, two pretty women walk right up and gain access to the club.
Allison (Kathryn Heigl) is a young producer at E! Entertainment Television. A hard worker and the celebrities like her, she receives some good news; her boss (Alan Tudyk) wants to put her on camera. To celebrate, she and her sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann, wife of director Apatow and the drunk blind date in “The 40 Year Old Virgin”), leave the husband, Pete (Paul Rudd) in charge of watching their kids and head out to the club. They walk up to the front of the line and immediately get in.
Debbie (Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) have a weird relationship. They have two kids, and she constantly wonders if he is cheating on her; he has to leave at odd hours to ‘check out bands’ (he works in the music industry) and she suspects he is out to meet girls.
At the nightclub, Ben meets Allison and they both get really drunk. The next morning, he wakes up to find they had sex the night before. Eight weeks later, Allison learns she is pregnant.
I have merely scratched the surface; “Knocked Up” has so much more going on. But I wanted to introduce you to the three sets of characters who occupy this story. It is these characters, their lives, their friendships, their interactions, and their philosophies, which form the heart of the comedy.
If we saw a film with just Ben and his friends, we would probably be happy. They sit around and make bets and basically waste time, so they don’t have to go out and get a job. Their idea for a website allows them to sit around and watch scenes from other films, concentrating on the “good parts”. Each of the friends has a relationship with another person that helps to provide an interesting twist to their group dynamic. At one point, we meet a young woman who is apparently the girlfriend of Martin, but she is too stoned to reveal much. At other points, various guys reveal they have other sexual relationships, both committed and experimental, most of which provide additional laughs.
When the gang goes to the nightclub, Ben has a moment with Allison where they make a connection. But the moment soon passes and he goes back to talk with Jason who realizes she has her sister with her. Jason offers to run interference. They approach the girls and Jason begins to hit on Debbie, a married woman. He is so persuasive that we get it. And she starts to become a little giddy with the attention.
This group is also the most outrageous part of the film. They are damn funny, often making us laugh with some outrageous statement or image. But the brilliance of this film is that this outrageous behavior is offset, and complimented, by two other groups.
Kathryn Heigl basically plays the straight woman to Seth Rogen’s funny guy. Allison is the more human, emotional center of the story. She isn’t very funny, but is a necessary part of the film’s success. If everyone were off the wall, “Knocked Up” wouldn’t work because there would be no basis in reality. She is the key to making the film seem more real.
But her own funny people surround her, from her boss and his assistant (Kristen Wiig, TV’s “Saturday Night Live”) at E! to her sister and brother-in-law, everyone has a quirky personality, and these help to add depth and interest to an already funny film.
Then, the film adds Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, as Allison’s sister and brother-in-law. Both were very funny in Apatow’s “The 40 Year Old Virgin”. Here, they are paired and add another level of eccentricity to the film. Rudd is a bit sarcastic, and feels put upon by his responsibilities as a father and husband. Mann has much insecurity and suspects her husband of cheating on her, but she isn’t above using the relationship to get what she wants. They have allowed Allison to move into the guesthouse in the back, so they are always in each other’s lives, often to comic effect.
Apatow has a real sense of capturing these eccentric characters in an extremely natural way. I know they are acting like clowns, but the director makes them appear human and life like. No small feat. He also has a great ear for dialogue and many lines made me laugh out loud because they so brilliantly captured the feelings and character of the people saying them. This doesn’t happen that often, so when it does, I really notice.
“Knocked Up” captures the details of their relationship in a believable, honest way. When Allison realizes she is pregnant, and whom she was with when this happened, she becomes distraught. Allison doesn’t even know the guy and what she learns about him doesn’t assuage her fears. But because she is pregnant with Ben’s baby, they spend time together and they actually learn good things about each other, learn to care about each other. They fall in love, naturally and gradually. Allison even begins to adopt some of his likes and habits. And he tries. He tries very hard.
“Knocked Up” is less successful when it tries to capture the entire story of their pregnancy. Throughout, a title comes up to reveal the state of the pregnancy at that time. This helps to guide us through the story, but it also makes it seem episodic. And because we realize soon enough that we will be watching the entire relationship, good and bad, funny and sad, it makes the film feel longer in a way. We sort of anticipate that not everything will be funny and when it isn’t, these scenes wear a little thin.
But this is a minor complaint in an overall excellent, very funny, adult comedy.
Rogen and Apatow have been busy; they have another film coming out this summer. Both served as producers and Rogen wrote the screenplay for “Superbad” which appears to be adapted from Rogen’s own childhood. In fact, Jonah Hill who plays the Rogen character in “Superbad” plays one of his buddies, Jonah (are you sensing the trend?) in “Knocked Up”. If “Superbad” is anywhere near as good, and Apatow thinks it is better, we are in for another treat this summer.