Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Bye-bye, bong. Hello,baby

Judd Apatow's 'Knocked Up' hits the mark with a believable take on the unlikely pairing of a stonner party animal and a career girl

By A.O. SCOTT  /  NY Times News Service , New York

Katherine Heigl and Leslie Mann in Knocked Up.

Photo: courtesy of UIP

It may be a bit, um, premature to say so, but Judd Apatow's Knocked Up strikes me as an instant classic, a comedy that captures the sexual confusion and moral ambivalence of our moment without straining, pandering or preaching. Like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Apatow's earlier film, it attaches dirty humor to a basically upright premise. While this movie's barrage of gynecology-inspired jokes would have driven the prudes at the old Hays Office mad, its story, about a young man trying to do what used to be the very definition of the Right Thing, might equally have brought a smile of approval to the lips of the starchiest old-Hollywood censor.

The wonder of Knocked Up is that it never scolds or sneers. It is sharp but not mean, sweet but not soft, and for all its rowdy obscenity it rarely feels coarse or crude. What it does feel is honest: about love, about sex, and above all about the built-in discrepancies between what men and women expect from each other and what they are likely to get. Starting, as he did in Virgin, from a default position of anti-romantic cynicism, Apatow finds an unlikely route back into romance, a road that passes through failure and humiliation on its meandering way toward comic bliss.

This improbable - and improbably persuasive - love story is embedded in what looks at first like a nest of sitcom cliches. The central would-be couple, Ben and Alison, represent the kind of schlub-babe pairing seen more frequently on television than anywhere else. Tall, blonde and lovely, Alison (Katherine Heigl) has just been promoted to an on-air job at the E! Cable network when she meets Ben (Seth Rogen) at a nightclub. He is a pudgy, unkempt stoner who lives with a group of goofball pals.



DIRECTED BY: Judd Apatow

STARRING: Seth Rogen (Ben Stone), Katherine Heigl (Alison Scott), Paul Rudd (Pete), Leslie Mann (Debbie), Jason Segel (Jason), Jay Baruchel (Jay), Jonah Hill (Jonah), Harold Ramis (Ben's Dad)



Their ratty communal apartment doubles as the headquarters of their nascent Internet enterprise, a Web site that will collect and catalog movie scenes in which famous actresses appear naked. (It never occurs to them that someone else may already have come up with this ingenious idea. Why else was the Internet invented?)

But Ben, whatever his shortcomings, is friendly and unpretentious, and it does not entirely defy belief when Alison, beer goggles firmly in place, takes him home to bed. Or, rather, to her sister's house, where she sleeps in a spare room. The sister, Debbie (played by the brilliant Leslie Mann, Apatow's wife), is on hand to send darts of envy and disapproval in Alison's direction and also, along with her husband, Pete (Paul Rudd), to incarnate both the ideal and the nightmare of heterosexual domesticity. Debbie is relentlessly critical, Pete is emotionally withdrawn, and together they dwell in a paradoxical state in which fulfillment - two charming young daughters, a big house with a pool, each other - seems indistinguishable from disappointment.

There is, as I've suggested, a certain familiarity to much of this: the bickering married couple; the competent, attractive young woman yoked to a slovenly and unambitious young man; the geeky slackers who communicate entirely through allusions to movies, comic books and old television shows. But Apatow, a creator of some of the best-loved, least-watched series in recent television history (notably Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared), has a sly way of subverting these familiar touchstones.

When one of Ben's sperm, showing more initiative than the man who produced it (and taking advantage of an all-too-believable moment of condom carelessness) hits the reproductive jackpot, the stage seems to be set for a comedy of male panic. But that's not quite how Knocked Up plays. Rather than being afraid of commitment, Ben appears fascinated by the idea, as if it were a distant land chronicled in legend and song. When he learns that Alison has decided to keep the baby - there is a funny, knowing riff on the reluctance of movies and television shows even to use the word "abortion" - he seems genuinely delighted.

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