June 2, 2007

Knocked Up (06/02/07)

Lettergrade: B

The marketing campaign for Knocked Up sort of went nuclear the week before the film came out. The 92% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- along with the hearty endorsement of most critics, several internet sites, and Oprah -- all suggest that it's the funniest movie of this year and many another. Of course, the problem with this sort of astronomical hype is that it sets expectations that no movie can really meet. Joe Audience is bound to be disappointed when such a well-reviewed picture turns out to be merely "good."

And in spite of the media blitz, Knocked Up is pretty good. The movie was written and directed by Judd Apataow, who made 2005's The 40 Year Old Virgin among other quality projects. Like that film, this one is a surprisingly well-written, layered movie that hides inside a very vulgar, funny one.

The movie starts with the tried and true tradition of pairing people who normally wouldn't associate. Alison (Katherine Heigel) is a floor director at E! Entertainment Television. Ben (Seth Rogen, who was also in Virgin) is in the country illegally, lives off a settlement he got from a car accident when he was a teenager, and doesn't do much other than smoke a lot of weed with his five roommates. The two go their separate ways after an awkward breakfast following a drunken hook-up. Weeks later, she discovers she's pregnant and calls to let him know. Alison considers the options and decides she wants to have the baby. Ben, after a great scene where his father (played by Harold Ramis) says that having a son is the best thing that ever happened to him, decides that he wants to be there and as supportive as possible.

It might sound a little like Look Who's Talking without all the talking baby shit, but it really isn't. One thing that usually pisses me off about this sort of movie is when characters behave in ways that no one in real life ever would. I appreciated that Knocked Up is mature enough to deal with ideas and situations relevant to actual relationships that people have. The movie tries to find humor in reality, rather than twisting reality to accommodate some contrived gag. When Alison and Ben have an argument, it's over something highly plausible -- not because of a cheap plot device such as her snooty ex-finaceƩ showing up at the weekend house suddenly, or because she walks in and finds him with his dick in a pie. For instance, I liked the scene where Alison and Ben scream f-bombs at each other in the waiting room of her OBGYN, which manages to be incredibly uncomfortable, tragic, and entertaining all at once.

That's not to say the movie doesn't have a couple leaps which don't entirely add up, but it's not as insulting as your average bullshit Ben Stiller / Adam Sandler / Ashton Kutcher movie these days where the lead guy is some overly cute, independently wealthy frat boy who everyone loves, despite his clear psychological issues and man-child like aversion to responsibility. In this movie, you can understand why Alison starts to fall for Ben as they get to know one another better, and it is refreshing that at the end not all the problems are solved or tied up neatly.

I had a writing instructor in college who often would underline the difference between telling a depressing story in a depressing way, and telling a depressing story in a less obvious, possibly comedic way. The meaning I took is while any method you choose is perfectly valid, a "light" approach to heavy material can often make what you're trying to say more palatable to people who might not listen otherwise.

That's sort of over simplifying things, of course, but the neat thing about Knocked Up is that it manages to contemplate having children (whether planned or not) and accepting the responsibility and the role of being an adult, while still pleasing a crowd the way something like There's Something About Mary or Talladega Nights might. You can argue that Knocked Up isn't as funny as those movies, but it does have a lot of interesting thoughts and layered ideas in it, and for a big summer comedy to pull that off is something worth seeing.

No comments:

Post a Comment