Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review: Knocked Up (Judd Apatow, 2007)

Marriage and the birth of a child are two of the signature life-changing events in the lives of humans. Is anyone ever really sure if they are ready for new commitments, both as a partner and as a parent, which will immediately limit personal independence and present both exciting and scary new challenges? Many spend half of their lives preparing for the moment they decide to commit to marriage or parenthood, with many still ironing out the creases decades later.

What if all that came about unexpectedly and much earlier than envisioned? What if an up-and-comer on the cusp of a successful career and an irresponsible slacker have to adapt together to an unplanned pregnancy? Could they ever make it work? Judd Apatow's Knocked Up is a hilarious and heartfelt study of such an event. It's a modern comedy classic with a career best performance from Seth Rogen.

Ben Stone (Rogen) is a lazy, irresponsible 23 year-old living off funds he received in compensation for a high school injury. He is a goofy, overweight slacker; a pot-smoker who indulges in simple juvenile pleasures with his housemates, Jason Seigel, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and Martin Starr (who's characters replicate their actual first names), who also work from time to time on a celebrity nudity website they consider to be their ‘job’.

Career minded woman, Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), has just been offered an on-air role with E! Entertainment Television. She lives with the family of her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), whose husband Peter (Paul Rudd) works as a talent scout for rock bands. They have two children and have hit a rocky patch in their marriage with Debbie convinced her unhappy husband is cheating on her.

Celebrating her promotion, Alison and Debbie head to a local nightclub, where Alison meets Ben. After a night of drinking, they head back to Alison’s place, where their sex results in Alison realising eight weeks later that she is pregnant. The problem is, Alison hasn’t seen Ben since that night, having initially realised they had nothing in common and gone their separate ways. She gives him a call and the pair decide to make a go of it - to get to know one another, to forge a relationship and learn (together) how to be parents. 

This is the best performance I have seen by Seth Rogen, who I usually find very funny. I think he is essential to the success of the film and carries it well. I guess he was first recognised in The 40 Year Old Virgin, where he was also great in a supporting role to the great Steve Carrell. He has followed up Knocked Up with stellar work in Pineapple Express and lending his voice talents in Paul. He also has talents as a screenwriter, credited as one of the writers of the excellent Superbad. It was disappointing to see The Green Hornet result in a disaster, though.

The supporting characters in Knocked Up are all fleshed out too. Ben’s stoner pals are all unique in their own way, while Pete and Debbie are convincing as a quarrelling married couple missing their independence, and trying to maintain the facade to keep their family together. It’s fun to spot the cameos. Harold Ramis stars as Ben’s father, Alan Tudyk and Kristen Wiig star as two of Allison’s colleagues who, in a great scene, desire her to get ‘tighter’ for her on-camera work, and Ken Jeong and Adam Scott star as Alison’s doctor and nurse.

If it wasn’t already proven in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd have great comic chemistry together. While scenes in the latter half where Ben and Pete take a trip to Vegas and a very-pregnant Allison and Debbie try and cut the line into a nightclub weren’t really necessary and padded the running time a little, they still bring some great moments. The mushroom-high gents marvel over the multiple chairs (and their differing comfort) in their hotel room, and decide to take responsibility for their relationships, having recognised that they have pushed away the women they love, and who love them.

There are also some great running gags throughout the film, with Ben and his housemates challenging Martin to grow his hair and beard continuously for a year or pay all of their rents as punishment for bailing out. Throughout the film, as his hair grows to ridiculous lengths, they ridicule him in their attempts to ‘break him’. Nicknames like Charles Manson, Chewbacca and Late John Lennon pop up. There are also countless references to films during the gang’s endeavours to build a Mr Skin-type website, and as part of Ben’s general conversational habits, which I personally found very amusing.

Following up 2005's The 40 Year Old Virgin - which I have just watched again and will review next - Apatow was involved in two gems in 2007: Superbad and Knocked Up. The latter is full of consistent crude laughs, quotable dialogue and one of the best Robert De Niro impressions ever by Paul Rudd. It’s also a sensitive and realistic look at relationships (young and old) and the life-changing trials and tribulations of an unexpected pregnancy and coming to terms with the beautiful existence of parenthood. Unlike the first time I watched it, the lengthy running time (132 minutes) seemed to fly by. It’s excellent.

My Rating: ★★★★ (B+)


  1. I have happy memories of that film, it's a sweet and honest story. Great review

  2. My favorite Apatow film and that's saying a lot. Good review Andy.

  3. I generally love Apatow, and this happens to be the only Kristen heigl movie i like

  4. Good review, man. Well said.

    Leslie Mann as Debbie was the highlight for me. I thought she was brilliant - a comedic version of Mark Wahlberg in "The Departed" - and if I'd had my druthers (which I never do) she would have earned an Oscar nomination. And I actually felt her scene with Heigl at the nightclub was one of the film's most important - there's a thin line between young & old.

  5. My favorite scene was Ben's father explaining how he had never desired to become a parent yet the the birth of his son turned out to be one of the best things that happened to him. Funny and touching.

    But I'm not sure if Seth Rogen can really be credited with having a great performance since he basically just did what he's best at; insulting people and smoking weed onscreen.

  6. Haha great review. Definitely time to pull this one off the shelf again. Seen it when it came out then again when I bought it (in a three DVD pack with THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and SUPERBAD), but I have to see it again.

  7. @ John - Thanks for stopping by. It is a sweet and realistic tale, for sure. It made me happy!

    @ Dan O - It is also my favourite, though I haven't seen Funny People.

    @ dirtywithclass - I forgot to mention in my review, but this is one of Heigl's best performances too, and the only film I have seen her in where she didn't annoy me.

    @ Nick - Yeah, Leslie Mann was excellent. Apatow always gives us the whole coverage of his characters - revealing more than we expect. Hard to fault that sort of writing.

    @ Ian - That's a great scene. Harold Ramis is so funny.

    I dunno about that, I think Rogen has some range. I always find his angry rants to be really witty and wordy; but he is written to play a stoner in just about every film - something he does pull off well. I was impressed by his work here, and I think his voice talents in Paul were well utilised too. The guy is funny.

    @ Tyler - I really should get that three DVD pack - I enjoy all of those films! Thanks for the comment Tyler.