Knocked Up feels, in some ways, like the grown up version of Freaks and Geeks: Two mismatched worlds colliding and, after much hilarious dust-up, bringing out the best in each other. The story is richer by including both, even if they don’t quite fit together.
So we have here a stoner comedy and domestic sitcom with a romantic comedy as its fulcrum (and a bit of Hollywood satire as seasoning). It’s a formula that would crash and burn in other hands — yet Judd Apatow pulls it off thanks to his hilarious sensibilities and generosity towards losers and suburban dullards alike.
Astonishingly, it’s the film’s narrative backbone that works better than any individual comedy bits: When a baby is born at the end of this movie, it’s a beautiful, happy-tears resolution of a long, messy story, one that is earned rather than perfunctory. Knocked Up is, in other words, a comedy that’s actually better as a lightweight drama — not the last time Apatow would pull the trick off.
Like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Apatow casts the right lead and brings the best out of him. Seth Rogen and his dopey laugh might have eventually worn out their welcome in the public consciousness, but this movie makes it clear why he became a star: He’s charming and affable and can deliver a punchline. He never shies away from the movie’s various tones or twists, shining in the dramatic moments as much as the funny ones, and building chemistry with everyone he encounters.
Katherine Heigl, while not quite as great as Rogen, is sufficient as a co-star, too. Her take on the material is a bit too jaded (which aligns with her subsequent criticisms of the film’s depiction of women), but she never deflates the film.
(Heigl certainly has a valid point, too. Apatow’s inclination to give every character the benefit of the doubt seems to run short when it comes to the women. It’s a Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus-type schtick at times, except the men are from a Rush concert and the women are from a Pottery Barn.)
Of the film’s various comedy modes, I find the raunchy stoner bits to be forced, as much as I love most of the talent involved. (Jay Baruchel, in particular, should be cast more.) The romcom, too, never clicks as deeply as it might have.
But Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as the sparring married couple are excellent and even insightful about the various ways that affection can cyclically break down and rebuild when you commit your life to someone. Apatow gives serious thought to the contradictions of the simultaneous shared and private spaces of our lives in marriage.
Knocked Up is, in short, a big, ambitious movie with tons of heart, and one that mostly works. It’s not as sloppy as its shifting themes and bloated runtime might suggest. And that’s largely thanks to Judd Apatow’s guiding, inclusive voice.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100