Saturday, June 2, 2007

At the Movies: It's okay to get Knocked Up.

I absolutely love The 40 Year Old Virgin, that 2005 comedic gem from writer/director Judd Apatow that pretty much caught everyone by surprise. It was the best mainstream comedy in years, and surprisingly sweet and emotional. It's a tough act to follow. Which is why I am utterly delighted to report that Apatow's latest film, Knocked Up, is actually better in almost every regard.

The basic premise is simple enough: Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) is a slack-y stoner who, with his buds, runs a website listing all the movies where hot actresses get nekkid. He makes zero dollars. Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) is an up-and-coming personality at the E! Channel who has a promising future and lives with her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), her sister's husband Pete (Paul Rudd), and their two children. One night, Alison gets smashed and hooks up with Ben. They wake up, she discovers he's absolutely horrifying and disgusting. She ditches him. Eight weeks later...she finds she's pregnant, and Ben's the father. She tracks him down and after much awkwardness the two decide to keep the baby and stick through things together, with varying degrees of success.

What's most surprising about Knocked Up is how tenderly Apatow and cast handle the situation. Apatow managed to treat the plight of a 40-year-old virgin with just the right combination of sweetness and vulgarity, and while the same remains true for Knocked Up, the emotional complexity here is far deeper and richer. There are so many wonderful dynamics: Ben and Alison are complete opposites and it's fascinating to watch their relationship grow and deepen, each proving unsuited to different facets of parenthood; Debbie and Pete are hilariously mismatched yet perfect for each other; Alison and Debbie are sisters, so of course they share similarities, but it's great to see Debbie's personality traits pop up in Alison's moments of intense emotion and vice versa; after Ben tries to become semi-responsible, watching him handle his druggie friends is both funny and compelling.

Basically, the movie is about how you change yourself for the people you love, the lifestyle negotiations that brings about, and exactly how much control you can exert over your own life (turns out, not that much). Everyone in this movie, much like in real life, is different around different people, and it's great to see this kind of depth in the movies. I'm not necessarily saying that Knocked Up is a brilliant character study, but the way in which it subtly explores all of these relationships and quirks in the guise of a mainstream sex comedy is great.

And of course, it's funny as hell. Seth Rogen proves himself deserving of top-notch funnyman status; every punchline he delivers is impeccable. For much of the movie, I couldn't catch a breath I was laughing so hard, especially when he and Paul Rudd were onscreen together (Rudd's delivery is also amazing). Add to this great cameos from Ryan Seacrest and James Franco (both as themselves), Harold Ramis, and Alan Tudyk, and you've got yourself one genius comedy. But the performances also skew emotional, and again Rogen proves himself absolutely winning; his partner, Katherine Heigl, gives perhaps the sneakiest performance here. At first, Heigl seems a bit too straight-laced and cutesy, but her range of emotion keeps evolving and growing until you absolutely do not question her place in the movie.

The 40 Year Old Virgin was broad comedy, whereas Knocked Up is a scaled-down, more intimate kind of comedy peppered with broad bits. I'm almost surprised this is in the mainstream; ten years ago, it would've been a cult sensation. I struggled a lot with whether or not to give this the top grade, and while--for now--I decided against it, Knocked Up remains a fantastically funny and sweet A


Will Penley said...

I. Cannot. Fucking. Wait.

It's actually better than 40YOV?! That, like...makes it one of the best movies ever.

BTW, I think you left off a word or two at the end...

Arlo J. Wiley said...

Nope. I said it remains a fantastically funny and sweet A.

Will Penley said...


Yeah, that makes more sense than the way I was reading it...