Katherine Heigl, Leslie Mann, Seth Rogen and
Paul Rudd in Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (2007).
Early on in Judd Apatow’s new comedy Knocked Up, there is a scene featuring celebrity spokes-muppet Ryan Seacrest. Instantly, I was overcome by the desire to see the smarmy American Idol host repeatedly and forcefully kicked in the balls, preferably by the entire Manchester United football team wearing steel-toed cleats. Then, once my Alexander De Large-like reverie subsided, I was left with nothing but the cold, sinking feeling that Knocked Up had sold its soul to the devil and that the next two plus hours were going to be a major disappointment if not outright torture. Then a funny thing happened: funny happened. Ryan Seacrest is actually pretty amusing as he pokes fun at his own image. This was a positive sign and suddenly I was feeling pretty good about my entertainment prospects. The question is whether my optimism was rewarded over the next 2 hours.
If you’ve seen the Knocked Up trailer, you already know what it’s all about: Beautiful career girl Katherine Heigl has a drunken one-night-stand with her genetic opposite: pudgy but likeable slacker Seth Rogen. When she gets pregnant, she tracks him down and the unlikely couple attempts to make a life together. It doesn’t sound like especially original material, but what makes Knocked Up different is that, instead of lingering on the obvious, it finds humor and heart in between the broad strokes of the well worn setup.
Anyone familiar with Apatow’s oeuvre won’t be surprised to find that Rogen and his stoner pals (Apatow regulars all) are the source of much of the comedy. They’re perpetual frat boys (though college admission might be giving them too much credit); a bunch of growth-stunted slackers who fill their days by getting stoned, tossing out Star Wars references, cataloguing celebrity nude scenes for a website they’re planning and generally making fun of each other. There’s a funny running gag for example involving a bet to see how long one of them can go without shaving or cutting his hair. Naturally the longer he goes, the more they make fun of him. Apatow and his cast have a knack for this kind of material and it’s easy to imagine these guys have a similar rapport off screen.
Knocked Up isn’t content to be just another amusing slob-comedy, however. The brightest spot and the biggest surprise of the movie is the real life Mrs. Apatow, Leslie Mann. She plays Heigl’s uptight married sister and, based on the trailer, I expected her to be a humorless, ball-busting shrew designed simply as a foil for Seth Rogen. She’s far from it. While she’s definitely a little tightly wound, she’s also a great character who gets some of the best scenes. Also, the family relationship between Mann, husband Paul Rudd and their two daughters (Apatow’s real life children) provides the emotional core to the movie. They’re neither an idealized family nor a cartoon horror show. They almost seem real.
Katherine Heigl’s character isn’t as well drawn as Mann’s character, but at least she has a personality. She’s funny and she’s smart and she’s not just a pretty face who ends up being a sex object or the butt of jokes. You actually like her character and you root for her. Though he’s given Mann more to work with, Apatow seems to be the rare male writer who is comfortable writing parts for women. He manages to let them be human and funny at the same time. Though his characters may treat them like mysterious objects, Apatow treats women like flesh and blood human beings. In an interesting 2001 interview with The Onion A/V Club, he talks about how he developed a skill writing for other comedians by being able to think the way other people think and write in someone else’s comic voice. I think he definitely puts that same skill to use when writing for his female characters. It should be noted he also seems to get a lot of great material directly from his wife.
Another knack Apatow seems to have is his ability to find warmth and humanity in his comic setups. As a result, in addition to the easy laughs, the film also has a surprising heart. Knocked Up is a movie from a guy who at times may be petrified and confused by fatherhood but who nevertheless cherishes being a father. It’s a perspective that elevates Knocked Up from routine comedy to something a little more special.
I’ll admit I had a few problems with Knocked Up. For one thing, at over two hours it seems a little long for a comedy, but I really don’t know what I’d cut out. There was a longish subplot regarding Mann’s suspicions about what Rudd was doing with his nights that at first seemed like a dead end, but it ended up having a terrific payoff and was important to the movie as a whole.
The plot strains credibility at times as well. Some people don’t think that a beautiful, successful woman like Heigl would ever end up with a doughy goofball like Rogen in the first place. When you factor in Rogen’s terrific sense of humor, a certain lovability and of course copious amounts of alcohol, I can buy a one night stand. However, I don’t believe for a minute that Heigl would’ve tracked him down when she discovered she was pregnant, especially after she’s already discovered his main goal in life is to start a celebrity nudity website.
The thing is though, the main job of a comedy is to make you laugh. I’m happy to overlook little details if a comedy is consistently funny. While this review kind of makes the movie sound like some kind of feel good sap-fest, it’s important not to overlook just how funny it is. From the opening laughs with Ryan Seacrest to the sweet closing credits, Knocked Up delivers on everything it promises and maybe a little bit more.
Knocked Up: USA 2007. Starring Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Written and Directed by Judd Apatow. Cinematography by Eric Alan Edwards. Music composed by Joe Henry and Loudon Wainwright III. 2 hours 12 minutes. MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, drug use and language. 4 stars (out of 5).