Film Reviews

Knocked Up Judd Apatow

Rating - 9/10

There's something unsettling to how multilayered and complex the simplest of plots can be. Knocked Up does that by being as wholesomely good natured as it is vulgar; being as simple superficially as it is layered in depth. It's not only one of the most innocently raunchy and hilarious films of the decade, but one of the smartest, sharpest, and meaningful. It's a contender for film of the year, and don't take that lightly.

This is how it works: slacker boy meets determined girl, boy and girl get drunk, boy and girl get signals crossed, boy and girl have baby. Director Judd Apatow transforms what could have been an exercise in slapstick humor that undermined its predictable set-up into a gentle, observant, maybe even (and bear with me) poignant film. This is no small stretch, but with the help of determined actors and a rather bloated running time, it is always levelheaded and focused, even when its core characters are not.

The cast, stretching from the unlikely but loveable pairing of hefty slacker Seth Rogen and naturally beautiful Katherine Heigl to the stream of cameos, are all uniformly excellent. Rogen in particular is a joy to behold as Ben, turning his charmingly annoying stoner character into a heartfelt and truly caring guy; he may not always be right, but he always means well. Heigl, stretching her wings after her sometimes overbearing "Grey's Anatomy" character, slides easy into her role as Alison, never overstepping her place to show how she genuinely grows to care for Ben, even if it feels like she is forced to.

It's their scenes that work best, playing off each other's annoyances and sometimes making their arguments uncomfortable to watch because of how true it rings. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann turn their stock parts into breathing people as Alison's sister and brother-in-law, two people that believe that they're in an unhappy relationship when all they need to do is open up. It's the way that Apatow handles this subplot that offsets Ben and Alison's blooming relationship that drives Ben's reluctance but then determination, giving some more weight to the already monumental struggle.

But it's not all seriousness, even if Apatow is willing to get gritty for realism. Knocked Up is gut-busting hilarious, with rarely a lull in its over two hour running time. There are broad laughs to be had (a trip to Las Vegas on shrooms has to be seen to be believed), but Apatow gets most of his mileage out of the small, awkward moments that never feel contrived. The morning after Ben and Alison's drunken rendezvous is funny because it's awkward and realistic, with neither Alison getting ridiculous nor Ben getting smarmy, just two strangers who are smart enough to know what the other is thinking. A running joke involving one of Ben's roommates and his beard is subtly played off; in every scene we see him in, his beard is longer and he looks more desperate.

The center of Knocked Up is its heart, finding strength in the way that the unlikely pairing of Ben and Alison feels real and never contrived, topping things off with a rather explicit but warranted finale. Apatow realizes that marriage isn't easy and it never will be, entrusting its characters to work out their differences but to never vanquish them. He smartly steers clear of abortion or adoption (they are mentioned but Alison never second guesses her choice). That a raunchy comedy full of fresh pop culture references brings to life one of the strongest onscreen pairings in and outside of the genre is a testament to how well made this film is. The 40-Year Old Virgin was no fluke: Apatow may just be the best new director working.