Writer/director Judd Apatow nails so many of the little details in romantic relationships in “Knocked Up” that its easy to forget sometimes that you’re watching an R-rated gross-out comedy. In fact, the screenplay is so prescient and the acting so naturalistic that you may forget you are watching a movie at all.
To make it as believable as possible, Apatow kept the casting close to home. His wife Leslie Mann, both daughters, and a group of buddies from his past TV shows (“Freaks and Geeks,” “Undeclared”) and movies (“The Forty Year-Old Virgin”) fill all of the key roles in the film. Talk about sticking with what you know! What’s amazing is not just that “Knocked Up” is flat-out hilarious, but that–for all of its outrageousness— it feels real.
That is not something you can say about “There’s Something About Mary” or many other movies of its ilk. Broad comedy lends itself to parody, but despite some of the raunchiest dialogue ever, Apatow consistently keeps “Knocked Up” on a human level. It is a high-wire balancing act he manages by constantly alternating between the puerile and perceptive, a tricky maneuver that Kevin Smith tried in “Jersey Girl” but just couldn’t make work.
Seth Rogan plays Ben, a doughy man-child who lives off the money he received from the Canadian government when a postal truck ran over his foot. He and his stoner friends run a start-up website that allows people to quickly find famous nude scenes in movies. The first clever turn of the script is that Alison (Katherine Heigl)—a one night stand who is clearly out of Ben’s league—has a job that is the polar opposite. If his attitude towards celebrities is disrespectful, Alison’s is fawning. She was celebrating her promotion to an on-air personality for E! Network when the two met at an L.A. bar.
“A “misunderstanding” with a condom later that night leads to Alison’s pregnancy. Ben can see what dark future his life may hold when he meets her sister’s family. The great thing about this film is that the fear of becoming a parent is only part of the movie. Yes, it’s about accepting responsibility, but it is equal parts about the give-and-take in any long term relationship. Debbie (Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) are not good harbingers of things to come, always bickering over the smallest things despite the fact that they have two precocious little daughters (Iris and Maude Apatow) and make a good living.
Knocked Up” is full of smartly written characters, though, and refuses to make a villain out of anyone. There are no evil characters. Everyone has a sympathetic side, which can surface at the most unlikely of situations (like a mushroom-induced hallucination at a Cirque de Soleil performance in Las Vegas). As a writer, Apatow is fair; depicting bad days for everyone—even a lovable oaf like Ben. It is Rogan’s job to keep the audience with him even when he’s acting like jerk, and he does it with such humility that it seems effortless. “You’re prettier than I am,” he tells Alison, as if he just discovered the thought.
Also effortless are the hilarious and somewhat-improvised scenes with Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and Martin Starr, who all play characters with the actor’s same first names—presumably so if something funny happened out of character Apatow could still use it. Much of their frank and dirty talk is in stark contrast to the movie’s themes of maturity, but even these abrasively funny jackasses have an inner sweetness to them.
Rudd and Mann have an eerie chemistry and really get to showcase their impeccable comic timing. Even the smaller supporting roles from “Saturday Night Live’s” Kristen Wiig and Charlyne Yi are as funny as they are idiosyncratic.
For all of the shock humor that it embraces, “Knocked Up” pulls it all off with a self-effacing honest streak that never goes for the cheap joke. The comedy comes from a seemingly infinite amount of relatable circumstances, making it easier to overlook the unlikelihood that people that look like Alison and Ben would ever have hooked up.
The situations are so painful sometimes that its almost as if Apatow sat down and made a list of the things that create friction between men and women and then wrote a script around that.