An ad campaign is supposed to attract a target audience to a film. Let me amend that. It’s supposed to attract the >right< target audience to a film. In the case of Judd Apatow’s KNOCKED UP, a huge mistake as been made. To judge by the commercials and such, this is a raunchy comedy with no more substance than the popcorn consumed during viewing. Wrong. There is raunch aplenty, but none that doesn’t serve a story that is sharp, smart and wry.
The mother-to-be is Alison (Katherine Heigl), a statuesque blond with a telegenic face whose career with E! Entertainment Television has just taken off. To celebrate, she and her married sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann) ditch the latter’s hubby, Pete (Paul Rudd), and two kids for a night of drinking, dancing, and general merrymaking. That last involved Ben Stone (koala-esque Seth Rogan), a doofus with no direction in life, but one smooth, if inadvertent, move that charms Alison into spending the evening with him drinking, dancing and general lovemaking once her blood alcohol level rises precipitously. A crucial miscommunication results in morning sickness for Alison, and a crack at a relationship with the sort of golden girl that Ben would never have otherwise had a shot at.
Apatow’s particular talent here is for deriving the humor from the very real confusion that everyone in the film is experiencing. There’s the obvious dilemma for Ben, who has been living for years off a medical settlement that is about to run about. And the one for Alison, whose new job involves noting her weight and eating less until it is 20 pounds less, as it’s explained to her by a boss who also explains that by law, he can’t tell her to go on a diet, especially since she is already what could best be described as lithe. Debbie and Pete are unhappy in their own, upper-middle class way, having settled into a malaise after ten years of marriage brought on by their own unplanned pregnancy. The subsumed emotional turmoil is such that Debbie suspects Pete of cheating only to discover something she considers much worse. And, no, he’s not gay. That would be much too easy and much too obvious for a script that is about people adrift, using media images as their game plan for life and blaming themselves and everyone around them when it doesn’t work out like the television sit-com of choice. It’s no coincidence that Alison works for E!, or that Ben’s plan for a web site involves movies, or that Pete is in the music industry. Or, further, that Ryan Seacrest’s affable on-screen personality is revealed to be different than is off-screen, or that one of Pete and Debbie’s fights is spurred not by their own lives, but what Debbie saw on a television news magazine.
The writing is funny, but also compassionate, not designating any villains here, though Debbie’s high-strung persona is wearing, as are Ben’s rooommates, who fart each other into pinkeye (don’t ask). That isn’t a failing in the script, that is the whole point. In moments big, small, and completely unexpected, brilliant little nuggets of truth are revealed, from E! execs (Alan Tudyck, Kristen Wiig) E! who are just a hair short of faking sincerity, to a doorman at a hot club baring his soul to someone not hot enough to make it past the velvet rope. Most are funny, some are genuinely touching, some are both, like Pete and Ben bonding, because they see in each other what he wishes he were, or like Alison wanting to see her baby crown just before it’s born and then finding out, like many in the audience will, that she really doesn’t. Apatow keeps his characters genuine. They are not playing schtick, even when acting like idiots, even when ingesting controlled substances and marveling over the phenomenon of chairs in different shapes. They play the drama and the humor comes through because it’s the humor of human folly, with all its glorious, illogical foibles.
At the heart of KNOCKED UP are two sweet people who are right for each other, not perfect. That, too, is the point. Their life plans would have gotten in the way, and that would have been a shame. They, like the film, works because they so palpably belong together and everyone watching them will root for them to somehow realize that their worst nightmare has turned out to be as close as it gets to a storybook ending in real life. Heck, they might even root for Pete and Debbie, too.