Writer/director Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin) shatters romantic comedy conventions to create a side splitting movie hinged on fundamental differences between men and women. Jewish Slacker Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) lives a frat house existence smoking endless bong-hits and playing refereed games of ping-pong with his four puerile housemates. Fate intervenes on the guys’ “brilliant” employment substitution strategy to launch “FleshofTheStars.com,” a website delineating the placement of nude scenes in movies, after Ben shares an unlikely one-night stand of unprotected drunken sex with “E! Entertainment” television reporter Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl).
Alison’s “hottie” status doesn’t stop her from making tenuous peace with Ben’s unkempt appearance and laid-back sense of humor after she discovers that she’s pregnant with his child. Having just been promoted to an on-screen television interviewer, against the wishes of a comically catty co-worker, Alison tries to keep her pregnancy a secret from her employers.
Interviews with stars like James Franco (playing himself) go screwy as Alison’s bouts of morning sickness inelegantly disrupt the videotaped proceedings. The blending of real-life celebrity culture into the story lends a distinctly L.A. milieu that’s funny for its blushing behind-the-scenes truthfulness. Apatow deftly moves, bends and blurs class division judgments in a haze of Southern Californian consciousness.
Compatibility is more than skin deep as Ben attempts to step up to the plate of responsibility for Alison in spite of his unemployed status and lazy habits. Ben hedges his bets by lunching with his amiable dad (Harold Ramis) to ask for advice, only to get a “roll-with-the-punches” answer that may explain his dad’s record of multiple divorces.
The snickers go through the roof more than a few times, not the least of which is during an attempted love-making session where Ben’s queasiness about bothering or “hurting” the baby makes for a defining moment of weighty humor, so to speak. The movie swings between surprisingly uninhibited personal interactions and contextualizing scenes of public interactions where harsh opinions are expressed.
Ben’s buddies form a peanut gallery of advice and information that would send steam from the ears of Alison’s naysayer, control-freak sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) if she ever heard them. Debbie presents the movie’s essential antagonist, and we know this for certain when she drags Ben and Alison along to spy on Pete, Debbie’s even-keeled husband (Paul Rudd), who she suspects is cheating.
For all of its raunchy humor and eye-popping sight gags, Knocked Up wins as a comedy for its open embrace of hormonal differences that send men and women to opposite corners to address individual nagging issues before coming together again to move forward. The ensemble performances flex together well in off-kilter ways that underscore the sense of a Los Angeles community of like-minded individuals freely expressing themselves.
Seth Rogen is something of a comic revelation with a disarming delivery that punishes your funny bone. With the exception of the poisonous Debbie, everyone’s heart is pretty much in the right place. Knocked Up is an instant classic. MTW