The two hardest reviews for me to write always seem to be for comedies and really good films. I think the reason for this is because for both types of films to work effectively, they invariably rely on the element of surprise and any kind of analysis as to why a movie works runs the risk of spoiling those surprises.
That’s what makes Knocked Up, the new comedy from writer/director Judd Apatow, so difficult to write about- it’s a really great comedy that also works as a really good film.
There’s a saying that some men are born to greatness while other have greatness thrust upon them. Likewise, some men are born to maturity and responsibility, while poor Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) has it thrust upon him. After an alcohol-fueled one night stand with Alison (Katherine Heigl), Ben finds his world turned upside down when she calls him several weeks later to tell him she’s pregnant. The two decide to try and see if a relationship is possible between them, despite Ben’s slacker and Alison’s upwardly mobile careerist lifestyles. Not helping them in their decision to stay together to raise their coming child is the troubled marriage of Allison’s sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd).
Apatow manages a fine balancing act with Knocked Up, at times raunchy and at other times sweet. Ben and his friends are a rowdy band of 20-somethings who talk a tough, and often times crude, game about women but invariably choke when it comes to actually approaching the opposite sex. But the film also carries an emotionally honesty usually not found in comedies today. Ben is deftly afraid of the new responsibilities that loom on his horizon. His own father – Harold Ramis in a small role that reminds us that he needs to be on screen more – can’t offer any practical advise, but tells his son that he knows he’ll do what he feels is right. All four principal characters have moments where they wonder why their mates can be in love with them given all their personality differences. It’s from these universal insecurities that the film finds much humor as well as heart warming moments. To be sure, Seth Rogen certainly doesn’t have traditional leading man good looks, but that works to the film’s advantage. Ben’s look, which seems to combine fear with the question “How did I end up here?”, at an OB/GYN’s waiting room is such a strong character moment that also produces a good laugh.
The script does have a few minor flaws however. Alison and sister Debbie’s dash through a pharmacy to purchase every type of pregnancy test on the shelf is a scene that has seemingly become mandatory in any comedy with an unexpected pregnancy plotline. A late in the film road trip to Las Vegas for Ben and Pete is low on laughs, but was probably saved from hitting the editing room floor due to an important story moment it provides. But clocking in at a little over two hours, Knocked Up contains plenty of laughs and heart – a real mix of a guy’s comedy and chick flick – to make any minor mis-steps forgivable.