Ben Stone (Seth Rogan) is a stoner and a slacker. He doesn’t earn a living per se, but he and his buddies are working on a website that helps users find movie nude scenes of their favorite actresses. Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) is a staff member at the E! Channel who is ecstatic to learn that she’s being given a promotion. While out celebrating with her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), Alison meets Ben, who’s doing his usual party-dude thing. After more than a few drinks are consumed, Ben and Alison end up at her place, naked, in bed. Eight weeks later, she discovers that this one-night stand has left her pregnant.
This is the premise of Knocked Up, the new comedy from Judd Apatow, whose first film as a director was a little movie called The 40 Year-Old Virgin. (I think that was one of the best comedies I’ve ever seen.) Apatow’s specialty is fusing raunchy frat-boy humor with genuine, heartfelt observations about human nature. This time, he looks at what happens when a night of wanton “freedom” brings with it a responsibility that cannot be escaped.
Alison decides to keep the baby, which is okay by Ben even though he’s somewhat daunted by becoming a father when he’s little more than an overgrown kid himself. For the sake of their unborn, the two strangers more or less try to squeeze themselves into a relationship. They get along fine – when Ben’s not burdened by his immature friends, at least – yet they seem to have very little in common other than a desire to take their unborn child’s life seriously. Like any big screen relationship, theirs has ups and downs, moments where they seem to connect deeply and others where it feels like they are simply hanging by a thread. Whether they end up together is really beside the point, though. Knocked Up is more about growing up. It uses outrageous humor to look at how people deal with the unexpected curveballs that often pop up in life.
It is the kind of movie that many people will relate to because it’s very wise and knowing about human nature. Ben is, like a lot of guys, happily stuck in a state of suspended adolescence. He smokes weed, watches a lot of DVDs, and engages in weird bets with his friends. (One unlucky guy has to agree to go a full year without shaving or cutting his hair while the others mercilessly taunt him.) Ben may be a big kid, but he’s a good man. Alison, meanwhile, goes through something that lots of women do: the desire to achieve career advancement without sacrificing the ability to have personal happiness. It’s really interesting to watch how these two people who, outwardly, are polar opposites manage to come together when they discover a shared inner purpose.
You’ll notice that I have not said much about the funny parts of Knocked Up, and that’s for good reason. This is one of the most hilarious pictures of the decade. When a movie is this funny, there is a tendency to want to tell everyone all the good parts. I remember the infamous chest-waxing scene from The 40 Year-Old Virgin that most people seemed to know all about before even seeing the film. Granted, spilling all the best stuff to your friends and loved ones gives a comedy like this a certain “you gotta see it” appeal, but it also takes away some of the fun and surprise. The less you know about the jokes in Knocked Up, the harder you will laugh.
That said, keep your eyes and ears peeled for the following things that made me laugh hard: Ben and Alison’s search for a sane gynecologist; Ryan Seacrest’s temper tantrum on the E! News set; a sequence where several characters get pink eye; Alison’s first visit to Ben’s stoner pad; and a scene where Alison decides to try a home pregnancy test. If you remember the famous “zipper scene” from There’s Something About Mary (another great mixture of raunchy humor and real heart), there is a childbirth scene here that equals it in terms of showing you something you never thought you’d see in a mainstream comedy.
This is the movie that makes Seth Rogan a star. The actor stole scenes as one of Steve Carell’s co-workers in Virgin, but here he comes into his own. What’s so great about him is that he completely sells both sides of Ben’s personality. You totally buy him as an aimless slacker, yet you also buy him as a guy who wants to do the right thing. Rogan is nothing short of fantastic in the role. He is matched by “Gray’s Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl, who nicely shows us how Alison’s upward mobility co-exists with her desire to parent successfully. The two stars have great chemistry together, and the supporting cast is made up of actors who have appeared in other movies/TV shows that Judd Apatow has been involved with. Everyone is visibly on the same page comedically.
Not everything works. An extended sequence where Ben and Debbie’s beleaguered husband Pete (the always hysterical Paul Rudd) go to Vegas is funnier in conception than in execution. Also, at 132 minutes, the story could have been trimmed slightly to make it a little leaner in the mid-section. But how many movies give you too much rather than not enough? Knocked Up has a lot of great big belly laughs, yet it eventually arrives at a place of truth – a place where the characters have learned something about themselves and their lives. That they get there with humor and without the generic mechanics of a screenplay is just one more reason why Knocked Up is one of the must-see movies of the year.
( 1/2 out of four)
Knocked Up is rated R for sexual content, drug use and language. The running time is 2 hours and 12 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: Knocked Up
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