Tuesday 11 September 2007

Knocked Up (2007)

Tuesday 11 September 2007
Writer & Director: Judd Apatow

Cast: Seth Rogen (Ben Stone), Katherine Heigl (Alison Scott), Paul Rudd (Pete), Leslie Mann (Debbie), Jay Baruchel (Jay), Jonah Hill (Jonah), Jason Segel (Jason), Martin Starr (Martin), Charlyn Yi (Jodi), Kristen Wiig (Jill), Harold Ramis (Mr Stone), Joanna Kerns (Mrs Scott), Alan Tudyk (Jack), Loudon Wainwright III (Dr Everett Howard), Iris Apatow (Charlotte), Maude Apatow (Sadie) & Ken Jeong (Dr Kuni)

A slacker gets a beautiful woman pregnant and they decide to give their unlikely relationship a chance, for the sake of their baby...

The rom-com; quite possibly the most difficult film genre to get right. Too lovey-dovey and you bore the men; too crude and you alienate the women. It's a nightmare of a balancing act for filmmakers aiming to please both sexes, but writer-director Judd Apatow delivers the best example for quite some time...

Knocked Up stars Seth Rogen (The 40 Year Old Virgin) as Ben, a likeable pothead who gets Katherine Heigl's gorgeous blonde Alison pregnant, after a drunken fumble under the bedcovers. Alison, an up-and-coming TV presenter, decides to go ahead with her pregnancy and offers Ben the chance of a real relationship in the interim. Of course, Ben accepts her proposal, but finds his bachelor lifestyle threatened by looming fatherhood...

Apatow's film is both broad and sharp in its humour; indulging frat boy larks with Ben's stoner clique, but tapping into deeper areas through Alison's straight-laced family. Leslie Mann plays Alison's sister Debbie, who's already married and experienced with kids, but slowly mourning her fading youth. Paul Rudd (The 40 Year Old Virgin) plays her husband Pete, a good-looking guy with a successful career, who craves male companionship...

Using these two well-defined groups, Apatow is able to play to both sexes in the audiences: men will chuckle as Ben's buddies build a website to catalogue film nudity, while women titter over Alison's mood swings and her sister's attempts to get past a jobsworth doorman.

Even age groups are considered, with Ben's life steeped in the world of teens and twentysomethings, while Alison's caters for thirtysomethings. Harold Ramis and Joann Kerns also offer something for the 40+ crowd as as grandparents-to-be Mr Stone and Mrs Scott, although their roles are unfortunately very minor.

It's also refreshing to see a comedy focus on characterisation and plot, over situational contrivance, crude absurdities and swearing. There's a good narrative structure from beginning to end, featuring well-drawn characters and plausible plot developments.

Of particular note is how Apatow treats Alison's character. She could easily have become one-dimensional in lesser hands, but her decisions and treatment of the other characters is always acurately observed. Well, okay, you need to suspend disbelief that sexy Katherine Heigl would give goofy Seth Rogen a second glance, but it's all handled believably by the script.

However, it's not all plain sailing. Knocked Up isn't as hilarious as the hype would have you believe, although it is consistently amusing and contains a few belly-laughs. It's just more enjoyably involving than gut-busting -- which isn't meant as a back-handed compliment, it's just a natural by-product of how the script doesn't chase down easy gags.

If Knocked Up does have one real failing, it's Apatow's refusal to trim the material to a manageable runtime. As with The 40 Year Old Virgin, the movie is over 2 hours long, which means there are a few dry spells; most obviously an indulgent trip to Las Vegas. I never got frustrated or bored, but things would have been far zippier if Apatow had carved some fat off.

Seth Rogen is great as affable underachiever Ben, immediately recognizable to most young adults through his demeanour, temperament.and lifestyle choices. He has a natural charisma that bubbles through every scene he's in, although I fear he could become typecast having played very similar roles in TV's Freaks & Geeks and The 40 Year Old Virgin.

Katherine Heigl is a newcomer to the Apatow alumni, but certainly deserves to return in future projects on this evidence. She's excellent as Alison, both beautiful and intelligent, but never pigeon-holed by the script -- meaning she mixes with her own well-to-do clan and Ben's stoner friends in amusing and surprising ways. She's never just eye candy for the guys; becoming a three-dimensional character in her own right, and the film's feminine heart.

The supporting cast are just as good, although only Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd really get the chance to develop their characters. The others are more one-dimensional and there for easy laughs: chubby Jonah (Jonah Hill), nerdy Jay (Jay Baruchel), bearded Martin (Martin Starr), geeky Jason (Jason Segel) and oddball Jodi (Charlyn Yi).

Kristen Wiig (Saturday Night Live) also steals a few bookending scenes as a prickly TV exec, who's clearly jealous of Alison's ascent up the showbiz ladder. However, most memorable in some ways are Iris and Maude Apatow as Debbie's young children, with the director's real life kids both giving brilliant, natural performances.

I'm not convinced Knocked Up will be as durable as other comedies, as it doesn't cry out for multiple viewings. It's quite a simple story with little rewind potential, lacking classic moments and quotable dialogue. Still, it's certainly great fun while it lasts and will leave you giggling at the memory of a few scenes, such as the "pink eye" moment and the running gag of Martin trying to grow a beard to win a bet.

Overall, Knocked Up is very funny and the best romantic comedy in years for anyone aged 18-30 -- but it lacks the imaginative punch of The 40 Year OId Virgin and is about 20 minutes too long. That said, it's rare a comedy has this much heart and emphasis on story and character, so Knocked Up is very easy to recommend.

Universal Studios
Budget: $30 million
124 minutes