Eric D. Snider

Knocked Up

One of the most impressive things about "Knocked Up" -- an impressively funny and bawdy comedy from the man behind "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" -- is that it's basically just another "men and women are different" premise, yet it lays out both sides realistically and with far more depth than you'd expect from a movie called "Knocked Up."

Just as Judd Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" had a surprisingly old-fashioned chastity message buried under all that raucous humor, "Knocked Up" dares to suggest that two people who accidentally make a baby should see it through together. It also derives laughs from men and women failing to understand each other, but the characters feel like real people, not like the cardboard joke-dispensers they could have been. It's the thinking man's R-rated sex comedy.

It begins with this nightmare premise: What if a drunken one-night stand led to a pregnancy? Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) is a pretty E! Channel production assistant who's just been given a shot at on-air work. Her career is starting to take off. Foolishly, she hooked up one night with Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), who's average-looking and chubby, though he makes up for it by being funny. Ben and his several housemates, all in their mid-20s and going nowhere, have vague plans of launching a lucrative website that catalogs movie nudity for leering males. Specifics on how this site will operate or how it will make money have not yet been nailed down.

Alison and Ben's liaison was a mistake, obviously, but the li'l fetus in Alison's tummy means they must continue to interact. An abortion is not an option, of course, as it would end the movie immediately, and (though this is a lesser factor) because Alison doesn't want one. Ben, a decent and honest guy underneath all the pot-smoking and general uselessness, says he'll be as involved with the pregnancy and child-rearing as Alison wants him to be. He accepts responsibility for his actions, though not before going through the usual stages of anger and disbelief.

So Alison and Ben set out to get to know each other over the next eight months, to see if they could work as a couple, to determine how best to raise the child they've accidentally made. The comedy of two very different strangers being thrust together is abundant, and it would be sufficient for one movie. Heck, that's the premise of most romantic comedies: We're opposite, and we don't like each other, but we'll eventually fall in love. Apatow's brilliant twist is to include another couple: Alison's sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Debbie's husband Pete (Paul Rudd).

Alison lives in Debbie and Pete's pool house and is witness to their dull, crabby marriage, which has now produced two little girls (both played by Apatow's real-life children; Leslie Mann is Apatow's wife). Once Ben enters the picture, he and Pete become buddies. Alison and Debbie commiserate about their relationship woes, eating ice cream and complaining; Ben and Pete crack jokes and drive to Las Vegas, where they watch Cirque du Soleil while high on mushrooms. You can hear the resentment in Debbie's voice when she asks why Ben and Pete don't just get in a time machine and go back and have sex with each other, instead of Ben having sex with Alison.

"Who needs a time machine?" Pete says in a mock seductive voice while gazing at Ben.

Ben holds up a glass of booze and replies, "This is my time machine."

And that's the film's big joke in a nutshell: Men get along with each other so much better than they do with women, and even better than women get along with each other. Apatow perfectly captures the camaraderie of young men -- the idiotic bets (one of Ben's friends has been dared not to cut his hair or shave his beard for a year), the vulgar but good-natured ribbing, the revelry-as-therapy that men use to work through their problems.

But for as male-centric as the movie could have been, it gives the women their due, too, making it one of the few battle-of-the-sexes comedies where both sides make good points. There are scenes dealing with Debbie's fears of getting older and becoming less attractive, her love for her husband that keeps getting caught up on her fear of losing him. Alison is young and has unlimited potential, and now she has a baby on the way that could ruin everything. She's scared, but she's strong. She needs a man to step up and be a true partner. She needs Ben to quit being a lazy, unemployed 25-year-old and DO something.

The man-child-grows-up story is common these days, and so is the opposites-attract romantic comedy, and we've certainly seen our share of married-people-discover-marriage-is-sometimes-boring angst. But "Knocked Up" blends these familiar elements into something fresh and heartfelt, not to mention breathtakingly funny. It's over two hours long, which is highly unusual for a comedy, and while I can identify scenes that could have been cut, to do so would have been to lessen the film's impact. Most of the material surrounding Pete and Debbie's marriage could have been eliminated, and the movie would have been 95 minutes long. But it also would have been a forgettable, throwaway sex comedy instead of the multi-layered relationship story it is.

Seth Rogen, from Apatow's TV shows "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared," is perfectly cast as Ben. Ben is not handsome or ambitious, but with his good-natured sense of humor and unassuming demeanor, you can see why a girl would like him. By the same token, Katherine Heigl (of "Grey's Anatomy") demonstrates far more comedic agility than I'd have guessed she had in her, and makes Alison more than just the Pretty Blonde Who Gets Stuck with the Loser.

At some point in the last few years, without anyone noticing, Paul Rudd somehow became one of the funniest men in America, and Leslie Mann's drunk driving scene in "40-Year-Old Virgin" is still one of that movie's highlights. They add a pleasantly tart flavor to "Knocked Up," ad-libbing and riffing as merrily as you please.

Let us also mention Martin Starr, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, and Jay Baruchel as Ben's housemates, all quick-witted and goofy and, at one point, stricken with pinkeye as the result of an ill-conceived flatulence prank. Numerous familiar faces -- Harold Ramis, Joanna Kerns, Tim Bagley, "SNL's" Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, Loudon Wainwright, Alan Tudyk, Mo Collins, B.J. Novak, and Ken Jeong, to name several -- pop up for one or two scenes each, steal some laughs, then scurry off again. It's the kind of film where even if a character only has one line, chances are that one line is funny.

"Knocked Up" has some of the year's funniest moments, some of them centered on hip pop-cultural knowledge (there are references to "Munich," Matisyahu, and "Murderball"), and most of them verbal rather than physical. A second viewing didn't yield quite as many laughs for me as the first one did -- though it's worth noting that even that second viewing was more enjoyable than 95 percent of all Hollywood comedies are on their first viewing. It's a near-perfect mix of juvenility and intelligence, and of coarseness and sweetness.

Grade: A-

Rated R, pervasive harsh profanity and vulgarity, some nudity, some sexual situations, a lot of sexual dialogue

2 hrs., 12 min.

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This item has 27 comments

  1. Oscar says:

    This movie looks hilarious - and now that I've read your review I want to see it more than ever. I watched cool clips from the movie and the trailer on my phone on this site Zannel - looks side-splittingly funny.

  2. Brandon says:

    Too bad the marketing sucks for this movie.

    I believe that movie trailer makers usually put the best stuff from the movie on T.V.

    When I see a commercial that makes the joke "Hey the phrase 'rearing children' can have a dirty connotation!" I'm less than impressed. That's all you have, movie? Really?

  3. Aaron says:

    I agree with Brandon. After seeing the trailer's lame jokes, I was surprised to see an A- grade for this movie. I'm willing to believe that's a marketing mistake, though, 'cause people in marketing are generally of below average intelligence and unattractive appearance.

  4. Clinton says:

    Didn't a movie come out a while back with this same plot? Only it was a rom-com and it had Cameron Diaz and one of the guys from Friends?

  5. Bickmo says:

    I agree with both #2 and #3 -- using a "rear your child" joke in the trailer in a put-off for many.

  6. C.G. says:

    I LOVED this movie!! It was so heartwarming and extremely funny! Eric's review hit the nail on the head. Too many great one-liners to pick a favorite, although I loved Paul Rudd calling Seth Rogan "A gay Babe Ruth...Gaybe Ruth."

  7. Mark says:

    Yes, I winced at one of the lamest puns ever, and heaven only knows it should have been excised (and will in the expurgated version), and the f-words have rarely been so painfully plentiful, but the underlying message could not have been more life-affirming and relationship-enriching, with some of the most appealing dialogue I have ever heard.

  8. Nicholas D says:

    When I saw the trailers for The 40 Year Old Virgin I thought that it looked very non-funny. But after I actually saw the film I realized that the funniest parts were not appropriate for any of the television previews. I'm hoping that it's the same for this movie.

  9. David Manning says:

    I don't know how to say this... but during the last half of the film, the movie was more dramatic (less funny) than I wanted.

  10. JP Morg says:

    I saw this movie last night. I am normally a fan of slapstick humor, but this movie is really crappy. It is most definitely NOT worth the money.

  11. David says:

    #10: Well, there's your problem right there. You're a fan of slapstick humor, and this movie doesn't HAVE any slapstick humor. Unless you don't actually know what "slapstick" means. (It means broad, physical humor.)

  12. Mark says:

    Something ironic is going on here. I did not laugh once at Waitress because I could not sympathize with or in any way identify with Keri Russell's character, i.e., engaging in adultery with her married Ob-Gyn. And yet here, despite some raunchy humor, super crude methaphores, being drenched with F-words, and too intimate bedroom scenes, there were segments that were so wonderful that they easily eclipsed the abuse I otherwise had to endure. So, excise the 45 seconds of those grossly unnecessary scenes and you've got a keeper, something for the whole family to enjoy.

  13. Slash says:

    "So, excise the 45 seconds of those grossly unnecessary scenes and you've got a keeper, something for the whole family to enjoy."

    I'll keep those scenes, thanks. I don't think their grossly unnecessary, and I like going to movies that people don't take their family to.

  14. Eric D. Snider says:

    I don't usually like to comment on my own site, but I need to clear up some false doctrine that Mark is preaching. Take out the sex scenes and the movie still would NOT be something for the whole family to enjoy. It would still be quite vulgar, graphic, crude, and profanity-laden. Its message is wonderful, and its humor is delightful, but it is definitely NOT something for the whole family, with or without the nudity-free sex scenes (the first of which is what the whole movie is ABOUT, which makes it the opposite of unnecessary, but that's another matter).

  15. Mark says:

    False doctrine? C'mon guys, GMAB! By "the whole family" I did not intend to include the pre-18 year-olds, but was thinking of mine, with 18+ nephews/nieces, their spouses, brothers and sisters and parents 80+. And back to the excising, you know that one man's meat is another man's poison. Slash, I laughed out loud at your comments, not because I have no doubt that they are heartfelt, but at the different way people see the same stuff. And Eric, why equate opining with preaching?

  16. Jeff says:

    I agree with #9. It started off very much like 40 year old virgin in straight comedy territory. Somewhere about halfway through it switched into romantic-comedy territory. It was still a good movie but somehow I left feeling like I had initially convinced my wife to go see a bawdy comedy and left feeling like she tricked my into a rom-com (and she agreed with that assessment).

  17. Weezy says:

    Very profane... yet still hysterically funny. But do people really talk like that? I've certainly heard (and used, for that matter) the F-bomb in my day but good grief, it was flying right and left, in every grammatical form, some characters couldn't get even get through a conversation without using it in every sentence.

    What I liked best about the movie though was that they didn't "polish" Ben up any. At the end, he was still the same slob, same unshaven face and unkempt clothes, (same bong water stains on his pants) and she was okay with that. She loved him for who he was, and he didn't have to change to make her fall for him, or to make the audience fall for him for that matter.

    p.s. Didn't see that crowning scene coming though. That had to be more for shock than anything else. I mean, the whole movie Alison's always wearing a bra and then we get to see that??? Maybe if we saw it through Pete's camera lens...

  18. Tina-Banina says:

    Weezy - yes, people talk like that. If you've never known (or dated) someone who used the F-word in every sentence, God must love you extra-much.

  19. David Manning says:

    Weezy - Didn't you ever go to high school or college? Maybe you just haven't been around a campus lately...

  20. Crystal says:

    I wasn't going to see this because the trailers made it look awful, but Eric's review convinced me and I'm glad I chose to heed his words because this movie was pretty darn good. One thing that surprised me: there were like a dozen old women in the audience when I saw it. Granted, it was a Saturday matinee, but it was like a nursing home field trip in there! None of them seemed horribly offended, but i heard a couple of them saying that it wasn't what they expected. I can only wonder what they were expecting, and why it led them to see this movie in the first place.

  21. Mark says:

    #20: I also saw this move at a Saturday matinee and spoke later with some couples (at least 75+ in age) just to see what they thought. They tremendously enjoyed it, just as I. Perhaps they heard the same positive, pro-family NPR interview with the writer/director that I did, and which prompted me to see it. I have yet to see 40YOV but heard it was pretty good, with the same underlying message of reality mixed with strong family values as KU.

  22. Kay says:

    I can't wait to watch this movie ( sarcasm ) considering it is rated, what a A - .

    Why does it seem like the only movie that is rated at a A is related back to the 40 year old virgin. Audiences need to get a life and stop critisizing others trying to make one for themselves.

  23. Weezy says:

    #19 David,

    I did go to college but it was in the mid 80's and I guess things are different now. Either that or I'm going deaf in my old age, ha ha. And yes I know I am responding to a post that is several weeks old but if you see it then you were looking too...

  24. RQB says:

    Why does it seem like the only movie that is rated at a A is related back to the 40 year old virgin.

    Ummmm. Because they were directed by the same guy???

  25. Betsy says:

    I don't usually like R-rated movies, but I think I'll see this one. If it's as good as you say, hopefully it will outshine the raunchy parts.

    By they way, it's "Grey's Anatomy." "Grey" being the spelling of the name, "gray" being the color.

  26. Olivia says:

    This movie was somewhat funny and somewhat gross. I didn't appreciate the message that premarital sex was not a bad thing! At no point in the movie did any person show any disapproval of the fact that the unmarried non-couple was having a baby together.

  27. Mikey says:

    Hi, Olivia! Send us a postcard from the 1950s!

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