dir: Judd Apatow
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The advertising for this was brilliant. There were variations, of course, but their main theme was along the lines of just what a loser Seth Rogen looks like, and how unlucky any woman would be to fall pregnant because of his drunken thrustings.
The ads literally had pictures of Rogen’s goofy, almost apologetic face, with the phrase “what if this guy got you pregnant?’ or variations thereof plastered across them worldwide. Marketing genius; pure marketing genius.
Considering the fact that Rogen wrote most of the screenplay (or whatever you call the process that eventuated in this film), it’s something of an odd but extremely successful sell. In the real world, attractive women have sex with slobs all the time. And we thank you for it. But in the Hollywood film world, it’s seen as something of a gross anomaly, or at least enough of one to justify such a premise. Like some major disruption in the space time continuum, or a tear in the fabric of reality.
See, they don’t have this problem in French films. The uglier and older the French male protagonist, the hotter the French babe who adores him and has freaky French sex with him all over the place. Before she kills herself and probably him too by flick’s end.
But in the Hollywood universe, a woman of Alison’s (Katherine Heigl) level of attractiveness should never have been within six inches of ever having had sex with a shlub of Rogen’s proportions, let alone contemplating having the baby that surprisingly ensues.
Why? Well, in such a universe, an attractive blonde woman like Alison should be hooking up with football players, or the sons of media magnates, or powerful, wealthy men in general. Her destiny should be that of the trophy wife of a mega-wealthy power player. She is, after all, enough of a rocket scientist to have become a presenter on E! News, one of the most eternally vapid programs devoted to cultivating the cult of celebrity.
The reality is, through the magic of alcohol, attractive women hook up with and have sex with guys they might not consider that attractive or that mate-worthy all the time. Women often go out with guys who aren’t that ruggedly handsome all the time, and, apart from a few comments from strangers muttered under their breath like “that girl could do so much better for herself”, the world keeps rotating on its axis.
Despite the incredulity with which people greet this match, we the viewers are supposed to see Ben and Alison as a mismatched couple with not a lot in common, united by the imminent birth of their offspring, who are in some ways ‘okay’ for each other despite all the evidence to the contrary. How are they okay for each other? Uh, I dunno.
Alison works in television, and lives with her sister’s family. Her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, Judd Apatow’s wife) is a shrill harridan who terrorises her husband Pete (Paul Rudd) to the point where he lies to her just so he can get out of the house. They have two sweet daughters, and represent, most of all to Alison, what can happen when two people who can’t stand each other get married for the sake of the children.
On the night that Alison and Ben hook up, she is celebrating a promotion at work, and, greatly impaired by alcohol, engages in a hook up that she otherwise might not have. In the cold light of day, she can barely hide her disgust at what a pathetic loser Ben seems to be. After their hellishly awkward breakfast, it’s obvious she has no intention of ever seeing him again. Until the morning sickness starts, of course.
Ben lives in a sharehouse with guys even more pathetic and developmentally arrested than himself. The one other thing most of these guys have in common is that they were in Judd Apatow’s first flick (that there 40 Year Old Virgin caper) or in his tv series Freaks and Geeks. In essence, Apatow is providing welfare for these guys, because I can’t see any other reason why they would be employed over, say, your average bum.
They smoke dope all day, make constant pop culture references, insult their friend Martin (Martin Starr) who is growing his hair and beard long because of a bet, and plan to eventually get together a website listing all the nude scenes of well known actors and the exact time the scenes occur in their films. That is their plan for world domination. In the meantime, no-one actually works, least of all Ben.
See, he’s overweight, he’s very immature, and he profoundly lacks the Judeo-Christian work ethic. And he doesn’t shave properly, and he’s got a bit of a Jewish ‘fro going on. In short, this man should either be the President or the Pope, either one would be grand. At least in my book. But Alison, for some reason, has misgivings about his role in her life and, more immediately, the birth.
As two people who know nothing about each other, they struggle to get to know one another and find some common ground over the course of her pregnancy. She’s settling, but he’s aspiring to be the kind of man she can tolerate, let alone love. He constantly makes with the funny jokes all the time, which is meant to entertain us (and does, since he’s the funniest part of the film), but irritates Alison because it gives her the impression that he cannot take anything seriously.
The flick avoids the path of least resistance most of the time, relinquishing control of the kinds of vile clichés you’d expect, if not demand, in your average romantic comedy. There isn’t really that much romance to this romantic comedy, as the relationship exists in a believable way where people don’t pretend they are star crossed lovers and soul mates just because the music swells up whenever they see each other. Saccharine and cloying shmoopiness is utterly absent throughout the entire length, width and girth of the movie.
The two couples on display essentially represent somewhat more ‘realistic’ relationships because they don’t pretend to be ideal. The married couple fight and deride each other in the way only a couple together for long enough to know just how much they hate the qualities of the other. They don’t exist as an example which Alison should be aspiring to. Far from it. To Alison it represents what she should avoid at all costs, and the more pregnant she gets (as in the further along the pregnancy progresses, not that old joke about how someone can be only a little bit pregnant, or a bit dead). But let’s face it, it’s not like she’s got a lot of dating options.
Knocked Up gives time to a lot of details about pregnancy that most flicks of this ilk avoid like the plague, which some people might appreciate; others will be horrified. Utterly horrified. But it gets so many of the moments right that it is hard for me not to really relate to much of the material in this flick.
Ben stares down the barrel of a gun with this premise, fearing the loss of freedom, autonomy and individuality that comes with parenthood, and necessarily freaks out. He is utterly unprepared for becoming a father, regardless of his show of supportiveness, and avoids getting prepared for most of the flick because that would make it ‘real ‘, in his words. So an argument over the reading of such classics as What to Expect When You’re Expecting, one which many couples might have had (including myself, I have to admit), and what it represents, rings painfully true.
The culmination of this terror is a trip to Las Vegas where Ben and Debbie’s husband Pete (Paul Rudd) take magic mushrooms, watch Cirque de Soleil, and freak out in a very unconvincing fashion. The element that really freaks them out, apart from the powerful hallucinogens in their bodies, is the depth and complexity of their stake in their respective relationships. All whilst they blather on about tasting rainbows and scary chairs.
The Pete character gets more development than you’d expect, seeing as his role is essentially to represent at least one way men in dysfunctional relationships cope. Years of nagging and browbeating have turned Pete into a passive-aggressive sneak who lacks the balls to speak directly to his wife. When he is suspected of having an affair, and it is revealed to be something entirely banal, its purpose is to represent just how desperate men can be for some outlet away from their families that doesn’t involve hookers and cocaine. Even when they love their goddamn kids a whole hell of a lot.
There are a lot of emotions a person goes through regarding this magical process known as childbirth and parenthood. The irony is that it is an entirely universal process (there are, after all, six billion people on this planet), yet it feels entirely unique and individual when you’re going through it, as if you’re the first and only person it’s ever happened to.
Of course, then there’s the pregnant women doing their thing, but enough’s been said and then some about them. As much as the film avoids many clichés to do with rom coms, and seen in comedies about pregnancy (Nine Months, She’s Having a Baby, Rosemary’s Baby), the depiction of Alison’s mental decline in the grip of powerful hormones only ranges generally within expected cliché parameters. Even then, the flick backs off from depicting the true horror that is a heavily pregnant, perpetually uncomfortable woman in the late, terrifying stages of gestation. It doesn’t want to scare people too much with the grim reality.
Look, I can’t pretend to be objective in reviewing this flick. I went through this (my beloved redhead played a minor role in these proceedings as well) only a bunch of months ago, so much of the latter stuff (birth plans, sex whilst pregnant, the perpetually fearful and uncomfortable mother-to-be, disagreeable medical personnel, nonplussed and unsupportive friends) is directly relatable. The looking like a shlub bit, and having a child with a woman way out of one’s league are also pretty close to the bone as well. But, most importantly, the pure joy at the birth, the months of anticipatory dread, the confusion as to what it all means in the scheme of one’s life, or even the constant wondering as to what the hell you should be doing or how you should feel about all of it are there up on the screen for all to see and many to relate to. As such, for a comedy, the dramatic bits are far more successful than much of the broad, if not infantile humour.
It’s not as funny as 40 Year Old Virgin, because it just isn’t. The gags are there, mostly delivered by Rogen in his trademark words- stumbling-over-themselves manner, but a lot of the other stuff falls flat. It’s not a fatal flaw, but, for a comedy, it’s a bit different from the expected. The roommates, especially, become tiresome after a while.
The other question that comes to my mind is: What’s so great about Alison anyway? Sure, Ben is lucky to be getting any at all, let alone with an attractive kewpie doll, but why exactly is she some member of a master race, superior to Ben? We’re meant to accept that she could do so much better, as if he is some species of sub-humanoid, but I fail to see what was so great about her. She lives in a bungalow on her sister’s property, she interviews shallow people in a shallow fashion, and she’s not particularly funny or smart. So why exactly is she so far out of Ben’s league?
It’s because the script says so, which is as good a reason as any, I guess. We don’t really have to believe them when they hurriedly tell each other they love each other in various situations, but it’s enough to believe they want to love each other.
I enjoyed it, enjoyed it a lot, but as previously stated, I’m not exactly impartial. The joy of bringing a new life into the world, as banal and as commonplace as it must seem, since it is common cinematic and television fodder (if not mandatory treacly audience manipulation material), is still an incredible and transformative experience, and Knocked Up captures much of that without sugarcoating the more uncomfortable or disagreeable aspects of the process. It’s a testament to the changes fatherhood has wrought upon me that the ending brought me much joy and tears, and even induced me to sit through the credits as birth photos of the cast, crew and their families, some of whom went through this during the making of the flick, ran alongside them.
Knocked Up may be a shotgun wedding between a meaningful story about two people dealing with the complexities of imminent parenthood, and crass comedy of the stinkpalm/pink-eye variety, but it generally and joyously works. The Judd Apatow-Seth Rogen juggernaut rolls ever on, and more power to them.
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“If any of us get laid tonight, it's because of Eric Bana in "Munich."” – Knocked Up