Taking a quick hiatus from The Science Trip Chronicles to talk about Knocked Up, one of the best movies I've seen this year. Jago and I went to see this about two weeks ago, and it was one of the worst movie audiences I've ever experienced. We were at the back of the theater, and there were people talking on all three sides of us! I had to turn to the people beside me and berate them after tolerating 20 minutes of commentary. Seriously: when I have kids, I will likely have many parenting failures. But by god, they will know well enough not to talk in a movie theater. And the rest of the experience wasn't great either: it took a LONG time for them to remember to turn of the lights, and the sound was terrible for the whole movie. Luckily, Knocked Up was a great movie that we both enjoyed a lot. The first question I asked Jago after we saw Knocked Up was “Did you like it as much as The 40-Year-Old Virgin?” He wasn’t sure, and neither was I. In hindsight, it’s not a fair question. While they might appear similar on the surface, I appreciate them more for their differences.
Knocked Up is the story of go-nowhere slacker Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) and upcoming entertainment reporter Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl). Celebrating a promotion at work, Alison goes out and has a drunken hookup with Ben; in the morning, after an awkward re-meeting, they go their separate ways. Until eight weeks later, when Alison tells Ben she’s pregnant. The rest of the movie deals with their uneasy relationship, Alison’s struggle with her impending motherhood, and Ben’s arrested development. The movie is full of great supporting characters, many of whom are played by alumni of previous Apatow projects (Virgin, Undeclared, and Freaks & Geeks). In fact, the actors who play Ben's group of friends have all worked with Apatow before.*
By showing both sides of the situation, Apatow takes a big risk: he’s definitely more adept at crafting the guys’ stories than the ladies’. As good as the scenes with Alison and her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), I felt as though some of their plot threads were left dangling or underdeveloped. The scenes with the guys are where you get most of the humour: Ben’s group of friends are hysterical, and the scenes where Seth Rogen gets to act with Paul Rudd (as Debbie’s husband Pete) are among the best in the movie.
And as mis-matched as they might first appear, Rogen and Heigl have a great deal of chemistry. I almost believed that a girl that pretty would date a guy that…plain. (This is where I go on a slight tangent: if you don’t care about my theories of the movie, skip to the next paragraph.) Some people have a hard time imagining the situation: after all, that kind of “beauty disparity” is pretty rare. Even Ben admits it in the movie: “Wow, you’re a lot prettier than I am.” I’ve had a few people tell me that it’s just another example of the double standard: in Hollywood (and society) women are valued only for their looks, while men can be attractive for charm or wit or sense of humour. While that’s certainly one way to look at it, I have another. Apatow’s work is centered mainly on nerdy guys, like I imagine he was at one point, and like I am still. When a nerdy guy gets a girlfriend, even if she’s just slightly prettier than he is, he can’t believe it. When they're obviously prettier than he is, it's mind-boggling to us. I know; I deal with it every day. Apatow’s trying to show the audience how us geeks feel when a pretty girl pays us attention, but because it’s Hollywood, you have to get an absolutely stunning woman to really get that across. It’s still kind of a double-standard, and you could argue with me about it, but that’s how I took it. Anyhow, back to the rest of the review.
Knocked Up is definitely a comedy, but there are moments of real conflict and pain. Compared to Virgin, which is silly fun most of the way through, Knocked Up has a lot of heartbreaking moments, where I thought to myself, “Okay, we’re not in a comedy right now.” Far from being a weakness, this is one of the film’s big strengths: Apatow’s always the best when his humour is tinged with pathos (see the previously mentioned Freaks & Geeks). The scene with Rudd and Rogen in their Vegas hotel room is the best in the movie: hilarious and real.
The movie wraps up a little too neatly, but it’s a Hollywood comedy, so you can’t really fault them for it, and even someone as jaded as me appreciated the happy ending. I think the biggest problem Knocked Up could run into is that people go in expecting another laugh riot like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, as I did. Afterwards, though, I appreciated it for what it was, and think it stands tall on its own merits.
* - One geek point apiece if you can tell me, without using IMDB, where each of the actors comes from. That's four geek points total for grabs!