It’s a strange feeling to have these days, walking out of a theater feeling satisfied. Not very often after a movie can you say you’ve just seen an original classic instead of yet another over-hyped bomb. “Knocked Up” is easily the best film of the year so far and gives us a much-needed reminder that there are still smart people in Hollywood who realize that more often than not, talent – not money – makes great movies.
The faithful have known for a long time that Judd Apatow is brilliant. His teen comedies “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” earned critical praise and cult followings on television, yet were both axed after one season. Apatow then turned to film and released last year’s sleeper hit “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” starring Steve Carell, also known as regional manager of Dunder Mifflin on TV’s “The Office.” Now with “Knocked Up” Apatow has topped himself – and almost all other comedies in recent memory – and he has done it with a cast of unknowns and a writing staff of close friends.
Ben Stone (Seth Rogen, “The 40- Year-Old Virgin”) is a chubby pothead whose day job is doing “research” for his nude celebrity website with his stoner friends. Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl, TV’s “Grey’s Anatomy”) is a stunning beauty who works at E! News preventing Ryan Seacrest from flipping out on set. After she lands a big promotion she heads to a club to celebrate. She meets Ben, and after a night of countless Coronas and dice-throwing dance moves, Alison thinks him sweet enough for a commitment-free roll in the hay. Even if Ben does feel the need to point out the obvious: “You’re prettier than me.”
Eight weeks and 20 home pregnancy tests later, Alison realizes she’s, well, knocked up. When she decides to let Ben know and his first two words are a disbelieving “Fuck off,” she begins to question if that was the right way to go. But the movie dismisses the idea of abortion promptly (though not politically) and the two polar opposites try desperately hard to make things work between them. What ensues is not only hilarious, but unexpectedly touching as well.
The idea that any studio would bank on a movie starring Seth Rogen is almost nonsensical at first glance. With his self-described “40-year-old gut and Jewfro” he is an unlikely candidate for a leading man. But trusting Apatow’s judgement, Rogen is clearly the perfect choice for the unwitting father. He has better screen presence than any two Frat-pack actors combined and his offbeat charm and likeable demeanor are enough so we never tire of him or his posse of stoner friends (all “Freaks” and “Undeclared” alums).
Heigl steps up to the plate as well, diving into a cast of longtime friends almost effortlessly. She is funny in her own right, and sets Rogen up perfectly time after time. Her sister (played by Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann) and brother-in-law (Paul Rudd, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) present a hilarious yet apocalyptic view of her possible future. Rudd describes the neurotic marriage as “an unfunny version of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond.’ “
Although graphic sexual humor abounds, the film never feels crass. And though there are tender moments, you never feel the need to roll your eyes. “Knocked Up” treads the fine line between gross-out comedy and tired romantic drama. The path it takes is so perfectly straight and balanced that it never steps a toe on either side.
More entertaining than any flamboyant pirate epic and more poignant than any crying superhero retread, “Knocked Up” puts recent blockbusters to shame. Even $300 million can’t buy an audience’s affection or a critical acclaim without heart and talent.
This is how you make a movie.