Everything you know about romantic comedies is about to change. In the past, they've been "chick flicks" characterized by meeting cute, witty dialogue, "hilarious" misunderstandings, and supremely attractive couples. But real relationships aren't like that, at all, and rom coms don't have to be either - so all hail Judd Apatow, for his refreshingly funny, vulgar, honest portrayal of love, sex, marriage and babies in the recently released "Knocked Up".
As the title suggests, this is no gently humorous exploration of pregnancy – instead, it’s a frank, funny exploration of what happens when a mismatched couple’s one-night stand ends exactly the wrong way. Alison (Katherine Heigl) initially comes off as that girl everyone hated in high school - pretty, smart, and likable all at once! While Ben's a walking "Above the Influence" PSA, since this stoner's career goal is to build a "boobs and bush" website with his buds for all those times you've wondered to yourself, "God, when does Denise Richards get nekkid in that movie?" Not exactly "father" material, but when Alison finds out she's preggers the couple decide to give it a go.
Watching Ben and Alison struggle through both pregnancy and forming a relationship is simultaneously sweet and fucking hilarious. Rogen and Heigl play off each other beautifully in a movie whose script is often improvised, Rogen proving he deserves a starring place in the list of contemporary comic actors. Let's not forget the super-terrific supporting cast, all of whom shine whether in bit part cameos or major roles. Ben's friends, pothead slackers all, constantly rip on each other in ever cruder ways - watch for their scathingly funny jibes at Martin Starr's character, growing a beard and facial hair to win a bet. Plus there's a steady stream of Jew jokes (yep, Rogen and Apatow are both Jewish), drug humor, and the general brand of male vulgarity that's supremely funny, especially if you've ever had Jewish and/or male friends.
So check off the box for "R-rated comedy that appeals to men, and women who aren't afraid to laugh at the mention of pubes". But Apatow and his crew aren't content to just be riotously crude - no, they believe that emotions actually matter! Shocking, I know. To that end, "Knocked Up" has a wonderfully developed subplot dealing with Alison's sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, one of the funniest women in show business) and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd). Debbie could come off as strident and demanding, Pete as selfish and uncommunicative, aka the worst stereotypes of women and men. But their own relationship issues are genuine - serious and funny at the same time, just like in real life. Debbie worries about getting old and why her hubby doesn't want to spend time with her (at the same time, she's out clubbing with her single sister), while Pete's childish, cynical desire for independence comes crashing down around him in an amazingly touching and comic episode with Ben in Las Vegas.
It would be easy to quibble with the film's central premise - namely, that successful Alison would fall for loser Ben. But that would be to miss the characters' complexity and, yes, growth. From the start, both Alison and Apatow are fully aware of Ben's flaws, while eventually impending fatherhood forces Ben to reexamine his careless attitude toward life. What Apatow gets, brilliantly, is that being in a relationship isn't just about matching your partner's success - it also demands support, love, and faith in the other person, no matter how fucked up they are. Not to mention a willingness to embrace the utter ridiculousness of life.
Final grade: 95