The movie begins with Alison (Katherine Heigl) getting a promotion at the television station she works at. In fact, she is now going to be appearing on air interviewing celebrities about their various foibles. Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) is setting up a quasi-pornographic website, and spends most of his spare time getting high on whatever substance happens to be available. He made some money at one point off of a court settlement, and he has not had a steady income in a number of years (though his money is about the run out). Alison meets Ben at a bar where she is celebrating her promotion. Both of them get drunk, they go back to her place, and have unprotected sex – which means it’s not difficult to figure out what will happen next. Neither Alison nor Ben wants to abort the child. On the other hand, Alison has her doubts about Ben, and turns down his offer to marry her. Some harsh words are spoken and feelings are hurt on both sides.
Alison still lives with her sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann), brother-in-law, Pete (Paul Rudd), and her two nieces. The sister and brother-in-law usually don’t get along very well. Debbie is annoyed that her husband doesn’t seem concerned enough about the well-being of the family, and Pete is annoyed at his wife’s constant nagging. Ben and Pete commiserate with each other and become friends. After Ben’s marriage proposal to Alison is turned down, Ben heads to Vegas with Pete to watch the Cirque du Soleil. The two get high on some mushrooms and then are forced to flee the performance when they start to hallucinate. The two seem to have a great deal in common, though Ben is beginning to rethink his ways because he’s in love with Alison. At one point, Ben tells off Pete and says he doesn’t want to end up like him. Thus, Pete goes back to his wife and their marriage seems to have improved. At the film’s end, Alison goes into labor, is brought to the hospital by Ben, and the two now make up and decide to make a life together.
What one finds to be comical is truly a matter of individual taste. I’ll let the viewer decide whether Knocked Up is truly the comic masterpiece that some of the critics make it out to be. But even if a movie does contain a number of funny scenes, this will not by itself make a movie worth seeing. The mistake that Judd Apatow, the director, producer and screenwriter of Knocked Up, makes is that he tries to create a movie that appeals to all tastes. No truly great movie (nor book, nor work of art) ever appeals to everyone. Here, Apatow was trying to make a family film that was bawdy, and he didn’t succeed in either case. Any reference to drug usage unless portrayed in the worst possible light is not acceptable in a family film, and any movie designed to make the audience touchingly coo disqualifies it from being considered cutting edge. Knocked Up contains references to drug usage along with many scenes too embarrassingly sugary for anyone with a sense of decorum.
There seems to be a trend in contemporary comedies to stick in side-plots that somehow are supposed to portray the psychological subtleties of certain characters. In Little Miss Sunshine, you have the son who hasn’t spoken to anyone for a number of months. Apparently, this occurred because of a profound reading of Nietzsche. In American Beauty, there’s the neighbor boy who pushes drugs and incessantly spies on his neighbor with a camera, not because he’s a voyeur or a troubled kid, but because he’s a profound observer of human nature. So in Knocked Up, the sister, Debbie can’t simply be relieved that her husband has been faithful when she discovers he has been spending his time with his fantasy baseball league and not with other women. Instead, she has to be profoundly outraged that he’s not paying attention to her. I suppose it gives the director twenty or thirty more minutes of filler. And in Knocked Up, as in all other modern sit-coms, nobody can just hold ordinary occupations. One researches porn, and the other works in entertainment television. (It’s merely coincident that she also happens to be pregnant, drop-dead gorgeous, and allegedly in desperate need to hold onto her job. With all she has going for her, we have to wonder why she’s still living with her sister.)
Are we prepared to call Knocked Up a flaunting of convention? I hope not. Knocked Up is not compelling. It’s dressed up to be chic, but the contemporariness of the film is a disguise. If I happened to be in a contrary mood, I’d say this movie is about as refreshing as watching When Harry Met Sally* for the fourteenth time. The humor is bound up by the limitations imposed upon a movie that wants to appeal to young adults out on their first date. (Even the drug humor has been portrayed in about as much depth on that other media outlet called television.) Yet the movie also attempts to appeal to that type of conservative and/or traditional audience that values having a child raised by both parents – even if both parents hate each other. Only the brother-in-law, Pete, comes across as a character in the movie that is not a type.
Knocked Up certainly does not goes so far as to glamorize the relationship or future that Alison and Ben have together. They don’t always get along and it’s obvious that they will have some struggles in the future. Pete and Debbie seem to struggle because they are two non-conventional people stuck in a conventional marriage. Yet Alison and Ben eventually come together through compromise – by being more like other ordinary couples. And somehow, as in all of this type of movies, the poor and dumpy looking boy ends up getting the rich and beautiful girl. It seems a bit naïve. We know that the two will end up on their feet, and we know when we’re not even a quarter way through the viewing that this movie will have a happy ending. I’m not even outraged by the crassness of the film’s humor. The predictability of the entire picture took the edge off of the humor and made it less funny to me, personally. Apatow also directed The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which is not so very different from this one. How many more movies is he going to direct with the same formula? Probably several. The formula seems to sell movie tickets.
* Does anyone remember a single scene in When Harry Met Sally outside of when Meg Ryan fakes the orgasm?
June 27, 2007
© Robert S. Miller 2007