Wednesday, July 25

Knocked Up Delivers

So here's the pitch: a movie - passingly anti-abortion but let's not focus on that - that makes pin-up pretty blond Katherine Heigl look, well, ordinary, paired with donut-fit stoner Seth Rogen. Oh, yeah, and Paul Rudd, that old softy - he'll play the prick. Boffo, right?

But when was the last time you got choked up in a movie? Spiderman 3, Shrek the Third, Pirates? I'm an unrepentant Die Hard fan and whatever the shortcomings of Live Free or..., I believe in the big action hero on the big screen. But Knocked Up is just as inspiring and often funnier. And unlike Life Free..., I wasn't being tickled to death by gags.

For those of you reading (both of you) who are swearing a blue streak because you spotted Apatow way back - Freaks and Geeks - well carry on swearing. Because for all the cleverness and good writing in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, this is twice as bright and frame-full of warm-blooded people.

Sweet situations:
  • Pete (Paul Rudd), the put-upon husband and new friend of Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), gets an ass-chewing at his daughter's first birthday party from Ben for being the guy Allison is afraid he'll become. The wrong guy. Ben walks, and Pete, holding the cake, sings "Happy birthday to you..."
  • Rather than resisting Ben, Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) gives herself over to the man as he is. A man, it turns out, who is building a website that enumerates nudity in movies. At his place, she's watching the credits of a movie and she sees girls in a shower. She cries out, "Boobs. In the credits. Bush!" Delightful and unexpected, since the man is commonly the one who has to come to terms with what the woman cares about. And, unlike cliches of "battle of sexes" setups in which she stores it up as as ammo against him, it's just a step toward acceptance.
  • Some moments seem so true and tragicomic that they hardly need the movie to exist but they'd be a throwaway line in a novel, and lost in a sitcom. Pete, talking about all the pent up tension in his marriage. "Our biggest problem is that she wants to spend more time with me. That's our biggest problem."
  • And over dinner, when Pete and Ben trade lines from Back to the Future, they form an immediate bond that implies the hours of affection and lethargy committed to watching and re-watching the movie. Jealous of their connection, Debbie stabs at them with, "Hey, I have a really good idea. Why don't the two of you get into your time machine, go back in time and fuck each other?" Ben responds, "Who needs a time machine?"
That is the source of this movie's charm: Ben gives voice to emotions, not directly and on the nose, but with a shrug of "hell yeah, I feel that way." It turns out he has heart, not heroism or courage or the strength to kill his narcissism. In fact, the sequence in which he changes his life from slack to responsible is over without fanfare almost as soon as it begins.

It's a pleasure to reflect on this movie. You don't find yourself thinking about the craft or the scenes. Instead you note the light touch and richness of situations that Apatow's created in the very unreal world of comedy. If you're up to it, it will pose the question, "What the heck do we want and do we have to frustrate each other?" Not you and me. You and your wife, lover, boyfriend, FITB [fill in the blank]. Though there are many "refrigerator moments" - Katherine Heigl can't do better than Rogen? Even on a good day? - I'm willing to forgive this crew the lot of them.