It’s not the landmark that The 40 Year-Old Virgin is, but it’s definitely a few rungs above the normal comedy film.
Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, Martin Starr
Extended editions of movies had become almost expected by the time Apatow’s 2nd feature film was released to video. It was just past DVD’s high water mark, Blue Rays had just started to pull away from HD DVD. Digital was just on the horizon. Most often, I would see the film in theaters, then buy whichever version of the film had the extra stuff. At that point, I would watch the longer version and promptly forget about the other. In this respect, watching the extended edition now on digital, I had almost no concept of what might be the difference between the two. I think I narrowed it down to Paul Rudd’s Pete sticking his countenance in the derriere of a Vegas stripper. It gives the pink eye scene a much needed bookend.
Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are acquired tastes, on a personal level. Heigl’s star had risen to the point where she realized there were more important things in life. Rogen has lost a step or three, but he’s at least followed his muse. Apatow has been given enough rope to make films about people who are hard to like (Schumer, Davidson) and the results vary. At this point, all three were never more powerful, in terms of demand.
The story is pretty easy to disseminate from the cover. Rogen’s Ben Stone doesn’t look like the ideal candidate for a one night stand, much less an unexpected pregnancy. He lives with his friends off a settlement from an accident in his native Canada. His idea of a dream is getting high and watching movies with his friends as they work on a website that is unwittingly a copy of Mr. Skin.
On the other side of the ambition scale we have Heigl’s Alison Scott. She lives with her sister’s family, but she is moving from behind the camera to in front of it on E! network, interviewing celebrities. After being given the promotion, she is also hinted very strongly that she should “tighten up” which would seem hard considering her slender figure.
To celebrate her move up, she decides to go out with her sister Debbie (Mann). The introduction of the sister is a crucial component to the story, as we get a chance to meet Pete and their two kids, played by Mann and Apatow’s real life children. The couple adds a real life dimension that is at times poignant and other times absurd. Overall it’s a big boon to the story that gives way to the superior sequel, This Is 40.
While they are out that night, they meet up with Rogen and his incredibly talented group of friends, (Segel, Hill, Starr and Baruchel). Rogen does one nice thing, then one thing leads to another…
The chemistry between Heigl and Rogen is exactly what it needs to be in a film like this. Ben is kind of gross and self-centered. Alison is centered and is a planner. Apatow and Heigl don’t exaggerate her characteristics, which adds to the authenticity. She is decent enough to look past her inhibitions and try to make it work. She doesn’t even think about aborting it, even though she gets plenty of people telling her to do just that.
The middle act ends, predictably, which sets up a satisfying last third of the film. We know exactly how it will end, it’s just a shame talent like this couldn’t reach beyond a faux crisis to show how reasonable people like Ben and Alison would handle things without first giving up on each other. Apatow makes such intelligent characters, but then he allows them to work out of character (i.e. the husband and wife who split over…fantasy baseball)? Why? Who would hide a fantasy draft, then break up over it?
As much as Apatow stretches to make conflict, there are many more moments that ring true. He really hits on the group rental sensibility of Gen X’ers. Constant pranking flanked by genuine affection. The little girls, strangely unaffected by the constant back and forth of their parents, Pete and Debbie, say things we don’t expect, only because if feels genuine. The cameos in this film is a who’s who for comedy music and television of the last 14 years.
There are too many positives to feel anything but affection for Knocked Up. It’s not the landmark that The 40 Year-Old Virgin is, but it’s definitely a few rungs above the normal comedy film. There is nothing but love that derives from this film, and that makes it worth watching.
(****1/2 out of *****)