Knocked Up

August 17, 2007

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OUT: 24th August 

The 40-Year-Old Virgin was one of the nicest surprises of last year’s comedy offerings. Steve Carell in the title role was a revelation of comic timing, Jim Carrey meets Will Ferrel-style buffoonery and had a hand in the razor-sharp screenplay. His almost complete absence from director Judd Apatow’s latest project does nothing to diminish its pure brilliance. 

Useless, aptly-named layabout Ben Stone is living his dreams; lounging around getting baked all day and occasionally getting up to engage in dangerous sporting events involving fire. With his band of fellow stoners Ben plans to build a web site logging all instances of celebrity nudity in movies, inventing ‘jobs’ for the unemployable losers. On a night out he meets emerging TV presenting talent Alison, celebrating a promotion in the same bar. One drink becomes sixteen and they wake up next to each other, the necessary protection cast carelessly to the floor. Several hundred home pregnancy tests later and the odd couple find themselves thrown together, trying to make things work for the sake of the doomed child.      

It feels like a classic story, but its hard to remember if the whole ‘regrettable one-night stand results in baby’ scenario has been exploited in Hollywood before. Either way, Apatow has turned out a near-flawless script, well paced and with one of the best laughs-per-minute ratios this side of the millenium. Coming from the same frat-pack brotherhood as Anchorman, Dodgeball and, err… Talladega Nights, he thrives on the eccentric and surreal comedy elements of his peers, meanwhile continuing to grow his own brand of unique honesty that gives his films and characters heart. It’s a chord struck beautifully by director Alexander Payne, notably in About Schmitt and Sideways, evidently a strong influence here.

This striking realism runs right through the warm core of Knocked Up, much of the comedy drawn from ‘it’s funny ‘cos it’s true’ set-ups. The lazy stoners discuss film, play practical jokes and offer advice on masturbation technique, but always exhibit a bizarre intelligence and pathetic charm that soon sees the superior Alison ‘entertaining the idea’ of falling for Ben. Seth Rogen in the reluctant father role never puts a foot wrong, each of his magnificent one-liners a masterstroke of comic skill. His parts (of varying screen time) in Apatow’s previous projects have equipped him well for a breakthrough as leading man- he’s a natural. Katherine Heigl (Roswell High) is a strange choice for the yummy mummy, but she holds the fort with undying strength in a crisp and highly accomplished performance, most impressively in the final difficult stages of the pregnancy. The supporting cast delivers the quality we’ve come to expect from this bunch, Paul Rudd is restricted in his role but makes a significant mark on the movie and several celebrity cameos (obvious favours called in by Apatow) are nice nuggets of amusement.

Sold overtly as a laugh-out-loud comedy, it would be easy to underestimate the romantic and touching emotional side to the film. This would be a shame, as it deserves just as much credit as the witty dialogue and visual gaggery and for most audiences will enhance the impact of the story. Granted, the situation is a can full of hilariously juicy worms, but what carries the story is the coming of age, beauty and beast love story at the centre of all the high-jinx. When the stuffy, career-driven Alison ignores her sour sister and makes the effort to see more in Ben, what she finds is a sweet-natured, sensitive guy who just needs a bit of guidance.

Sacrificing his ‘dream lifestyle’ of doing nothing much at all and having no cash to show for it, Ben gets a job, a home and sets about making himself the model father. It’s two for the price of one here as the irreverent, pant-wetting funny stuff is held up rather than let down by the sentimentality. It’s not cheddar or forced, just the brutal truth. No character is sold out for a joke or even the plot, which is no easy task with such a gag-heavy script. For inane, random laughs Ron Burgundy and Carell’s cherry-losing escapades might be more easily entertaining watches, but in film terms Knocked Up makes a rare lasting impression.   

Watch it as a romantic comedy- whilst thinking about all the Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan, Hugh Grant (etc, etc) tripe the industry rolls out in barrel-loads year after year- and it’ll be one of the best you’ve ever seen. See also for fun and innovative weed-smoking devices.   

THE CRUNCH

4.5/5  successful sperm cells 

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One Response to “Knocked Up”

  1. Ben Travis said

    I’m looking forward to seeing this!
    And I can’t wait for Superbad either.

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