Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Martin Starr
Plot: Ambitious reporter (Heigl) and stoner slacker (Rogen) end up with an ill-advised one night stand, with causes nine months worth of issues for the odd pairing.
Following on from the surprise hit, 40 Year Old Virgin, Apatow’s second feature as a writer and director works as a neat one-two punch of comedy gold, a wildly successful entry into the American comedy banks. In fact, perhaps after Knocked Up, Apatow has failed to rekindle the simple charms he conjured up here.
In fact, for a long time, Knocked Up is even better than 40 Year Old Virgin. Your preference depends on the viewer, Carrell’s oddball virgin easily the stuff sketch show artists dream of, but Knocked Up goes down a different road. Apatow takes the same style of comedy, improvised scenes performed by up and coming comedy stars, but this time throws the routine into a very real scenario. The film starts with two characters who have nothing to do with each other. Seth Rogen is one of five unemployed slackers, who spend all day smoking weed and slowly compiling a database for their upcoming website (tracking down nudity in films). Katherine Heigl is a charismatic television reporter who has just been given a shot at on-screen presenting. These two people are worlds apart and the only connection between the pair of them is happening to be in the same nightclub on the same night. One thing leads to another and the pair of them end up in a drunken one night stand. Of course, the next morning, their differences are hammered home. Heigl is unimpressed with Rogen’s lack of maturity and Rogen is turned off by Heigl’s judgemental attitude. They part ways amicably, content to never see each other again. However, a few weeks later, Heigl misses a period and comes down with a bout of morning sickness. The truth is painfully clear. Her and Seth Rogen are having a baby. And what follows is Apatow at his best, using his actors’ natural charm and humour to deliver some powerfully funny scenes, but this time around, the situations are all too real. As Rogen tries his hardest to turn his life around to support both Heigl and the unborn child, Heigl, too, tries to embrace Rogen’s lifestyle choice and see the kind-hearted soul beneath. In fact, both characters are heart-warmingly earnest, likeable until the very end through their desire to do right by each other. There is no cutting off from visitation rights or any petty squabbles that stop either character looking like they are in the right. Even their mistakes and turns at playing the antagonist do not hurt their characterisation. Rogen’s oversights are expected of the character, suggesting that while he is making steps to maturing and becoming a functioning adult, he simply is not maturing fast enough. And Heigl’s reservations in the second half of the film are understandable, sometimes a symptom of hormones, but more often the doubt that she can turn this waste of space into a father figure in time. The hardest thing to get right with love stories, if this movie even is a love story, is the balance between male and female lead. Apatow manages it with ease, so you feel for both parties.
And for a long time, I was wondering why I had never seen Knocked Up in the same level of quality as the 40 Year Old Virgin. The story was wittier, the lead characters were more three-dimensional and some of the jokes could even be argued to hit home that little bit better. But as the film hits its hour and a half mark and still is no closer to hitting its final stretch, the truth became clear. Knocked Up suffers the same flaw that all Apatow films are stricken with; they are just too long. And in fairness, the material is still very good, making it easy to see why Judd Apatow’s feature fell apart in the edit. What side of the story do you cut? Every scene between the leads is an important part of the journey towards maturity, the entire point of the movie. The main supporting cast, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, could be argued to take up far too much screen time, but at the same time, they act as a pleasant distraction from the gloomier side of the story. A married couple who have spent so long with each other they are two warring parties, Rudd frustrated with his wife’s intensity and Mann wanting her husband to not crave escape from the family unit. Both comedians are funny enough for you to want them to stick around and they actually work as a neat metaphor for the couple that Heigl and Rogen are likely to end up being, if they rush into a relationship. There are also a lot of neat cameos from rising comedians to look out for. Kristen Wiig’s bitchy TV executive is far funnier than I remembered her being. Ken Jeong shows up as the angriest gynaecologist in cinematic history (not that he had many other actors to beat to the title). Even the late Harold Ramis stars in a brief scene as Seth Rogen’s casually charming father. There is a lot to love about Knocked Up, but in one long viewing, the masterful direction and keen comedy begins to wear thin. The second half has a lot to love, including Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd watching the Cirque Du Soleil on shrooms and a neat cameo from Steve Carrell, but by that point, you are struggling to find the same emotions you had for the start.
Final Verdict: Knocked Up is an amazingly deep comedy, focusing on the laughs as much as the character. Sadly, it can be accused of over-staying its welcome.