Knocked Up: Sad sack morphs into daddy

Posted: June 01, 2007

Bad timing equals good comedy for Judd Apatow.

The writer/director, an oracle of observational humor, is drawn to males who arrive very late or very early to the life-cycle party. Witness The 40-Year-Old Virgin and now Knocked Up, his ticklish and convulsively funny farce that might be called The 25-Year- Old Father.

As you can guess from the title, it's about a hookup that could potentially upgrade into a high-speed connection.

When Ben (Seth Rogen), a scruffy loser without visible means of support, picks up Alison (Katherine Heigl), a golden winner riding high on a promotion, they fall into bed, wake up strangers, and share an awkward breakfast. Alison exits so fast she leaves skid marks on the linoleum.

On their second "date" weeks later, she informs him that they're pregnant.

Can a one-night stand lead to hilariously-ever-after? In life, not likely. In life, it's preferable for children to be a product of a committed relationship than vice-versa. Yet improbability is the essence of farce, which bypasses brain for funnybone. In other words: No fetus, no film.

This stipulated, Apatow doesn't quite connect the emotional dots between Alison's considering an abortion to her decision to keep the baby, which unnerved this pro-choicer as the potty-mouthed pothead humor no doubt will unnerve many pro-lifers. Fascinating how laughter dissolves the ideological hard lines.

In truth, the unplanned pregnancy is a MacGuffin, as Alfred Hitchcock tagged the plot device that motivates characters. Look past the jokes about morning sickness and commitment anxiety and what this unpredictable movie is about is forging a relationship.

Can Ben and Alison build a bridge between guyville, where he crashes with four stoner pals, and girlworld, where she resides in the tidy guest house of her married sister? Can slacker and workaholic find common ground? Can ordinary Joe find happiness with gorgeous Georgia?

Though not the most cinematic of filmmakers, Apatow gets the audience into Ben and Alison's heads and hearts, merely by showing what the world looks like from their wildly different perspectives.

He elicits unexpectedly poignant performances from his leads as well as from Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (his real-life spouse) as Alison's bickering brother-in-law, Pete, and sister, Debbie. As the pregnant pair try on their relationship they wonder whether all couples are doomed to the too-tight fit of Pete and Debbie.

With his apricot curls, Seth Rogen resembles an overfed miniature poodle who barks like a Great Dane. The disparity between the lapdog looks and booming voice is madly funny. (I couldn't decide whether it was Rogen's delivery that reminded me of Kevin Smith or if it was the film's plot similarities to Clerks II. Maybe both.)

Heigl, a double-dip of praline with caramel, is so beautiful that initially you don't notice her comic chops. Note her deadpan when an employer, insinuatingly played by Kristen Wiig, warns her to watch her weight in language that won't invite a lawsuit: "We want you to be healthy. By eating less."

There are some sidesplitting moments. The sight of Ben, too big for the Fisher-Price cottage in the backyard as he plays house with Alison's nieces, suggests that he's rehearsing setting up house with Alison. The spectacle of Ben and Pete in Vegas escaping their women only to find, amid all the lap-dancer boobage, they can talk only of Alison and Debbie. When the girls go clubbing to escape the guys, their encounter with the bouncer mines explosive double standards that the movie plays for bitter laughter.

For Apatow, what alleviates the sourness of gender and spousal wars is the fleeting sweetness of knowing that your partner is there for you, no matter what.

Apatow's marriage of guyville and girlworld is not one made in heaven - he's too pragmatic to observe the rom-com conventions. What's potent about Knocked Up is its down-to-earthiness.


Knocked Up *** (out of four stars)

Produced by Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson and Clayton Townsend, directed and written by Apatow, photography by Eric Edwards, music by Loudon Wainwright and Joe Henry, distributed by Universal Studios.

Running time: 2 hours, 12 mins.

Ben Stone. . . Seth Rogen

Alison Scott. . . Katherine Heigl

Pete. . . Paul Rudd

Debbie. . . Leslie Mann

Parent's guide: R (profanity, sexual candor, drugs, sex, childbirth)

Playing at: area theaters


Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@phillynews.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/

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