Knocked Up is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars. Not that box office is a guarantee of quality, but in a summer of super-hyped franchises it’s worth noting that a sanely budgeted romance with a good heart and great word-of-mouth can still connect with Very Large Numbers of cinemagoers.
Of course, it helps that it’s frickin’ hilarious.
If Apatow’s fitfully amusing debut, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, was considered a home run, then Knocked Up smashes the ball right out of the proverbial park. Warmer and smarter than its predecessor, it’s by turns bawdy, poignant and perceptive. What’s more, it completes the former comedy-club dishwasher’s journey from purveyor of much-loved but seldom-watched TV shows (Freaks And Geeks, Undeclared) to filmmaker of genuine clout. Want more proof? Just look at the half-dozen or so Apatow-linked productions currently in the works. (Can’t. Wait. For. Superbad.)
Like Virgin, the film’s premise is sitcom-simple: slacker Ben (Seth Rogen: overweight, unemployed, woolly plans to start a film-nudity website with his bonged-out mates) meets career blonde Alison (Katherine Heigl: beautiful, ambitious, TV presenter, way out of his league). Circumstance and alcohol conspire for a just-about-believable one-night stand.
“You’re prettier than I am,” gasps Ben, with that mix of disbelief and gratitude familiar to most men on the verge of having sex with someone other than themselves. One miscommunication about condoms later and Alison is, indeed, knocked up. “I was drunk!” she protests. “Was your vagina drunk?” retorts Ben, taking, it’s fair to say, a little while to get used to the news. Fortunately, what follows isn’t a by-numbers life-lessons flick where dork becomes dad of the year. Instead, Apatow precision-crafts some tender – but uproariously near-the-knuckle – observations about relationships: the sacrifices that come with family, the sheer hard graft needed to keep a partnership on track.
Serving these insights pitch-perfectly is a cast drawn largely from the writer/director/producer’s stock company (such as Superbad’s Jonah Hill). Rogen’s genial Ben is a man bemused by life – possibly because he hasn’t really lived it, so utterly is he insulated by beer, dope and deadbeat pals who make him look like an overachiever. (Typical sage comment: “You know who I want to get pregnant? Felicity Huffman. Ever since I saw Transamerica, I can’t get her out of my head.”)
But while Ben’s friends provide the film with a constant thread of pop culture-referencing crudity and inanely amusing banter, Apatow gets closer to the bone with Alison’s clan. Her sis Debbie (Leslie Mann) and brother-in-law Pete (Paul Rudd) are having troubles. Or, as Pete puts it, “Marriage is like a tense, unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond. Only it doesn’t last 22 minutes. It lasts... forever.” Apatow once claimed he could only “write funny” from inside other people’s heads, never his own. Looks like he’s now cleared that hurdle, casting his real-life wife (Mann) to play out a relationship with at least one foot in his own experience. It’ll strike a chord with anyone who’s tried to balance parenthood with having a life outside the kids.
The upshot is an unusual hybrid of broad bloke-com (albeit a sweet, smart one) and shrewd chick flick (albeit a surprisingly rude one). It’s both old-school in its sentiment and starkly up-to-date in its language and honesty. Allcomers catered for, then. Among a myriad of joys is the savvy use of Heigl’s statuesque physicality (note to other scribes: this is how you write a comic role for a gorgeous blonde), a brief but priceless performance from Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig as a snippy TV exec, and a superbly self-aware turn from the ubiquitous Ryan Seacrest.
And, despite a running time of more than two hours – usually lethal for a Hollywood laugher – Knocked Up doesn’t overstay its welcome (although the Vegas ‘trip’ isn’t entirely necessary). Eventually all the plot strands knit together, but in a pleasing, not-too-tidy fashion. In fact, things get downright messy in a climax that brings the film’s laudable commitment to the realities of pregnancy to, well, a head. Don’t say you weren’t forewarned, fellas…