The premise of Knocked Up is pretty simple: a slacker and a career woman have a one-night stand, the woman gets pregnant, and the two try to build a happy life together amidst all kinds of misadventures and misunderstandings. For a seemingly unassuming comedy, Knocked Up is a thorny film that’s raised a lot of hackles.
Some feel that the film’s Beauty-and-the-Beast pairing of Alison, (Katherine Heigl), and Ben, (Seth Rogen), makes Beauty and the Beast itself seem plausible by comparison. Others chafe at the rampant misogyny of Ben and his stoner friends who are a group for whom arrested development seems a pie-in-the-sky evolutionary leap. Still others criticize the film for skipping past abortion as an option for Alison.
Perhaps it’s because the film’s potential is so obvious. Written and directed by Judd Apatow, whose recent The 40-Year-Old Virgin successfully blended raunchiness and sweetness, Knocked Up is blessed with crack writing and a loaded cast with strong improvisational chops. Much of the movie hums with a sense that everyone is trying to wring every bit of humor they possibly can out of each scene. And there’s a feeling that, beyond all the penis jokes, Knocked Up aims to be a very real exploration of what it means to get on with this thing called adulthood.
Rogen’s Ben is a scruffy teddy bear of a guy who lives with his four roommates/ best friends in a Never Never Land of weed, porn, and beer. The film opens with scenes of them riding roller coasters, boxing in the backyard, and throwing each other in their scummy pool. Their one ambition, apart from scoring more pot, is to launch a website that catalogs and timestamps movie nude scenes.
Heigl’s Alison, by contrast, has just been promoted to an on-air personality for the E! Network. Celebrating her promotion at a bar, Alison hooks up with Ben, and one totally boneheaded condom misunderstanding later, Alison becomes pregnant. Alison decides to keep the baby and Ben, making perhaps the first adult decision of his life, decides to support her and be there for the baby.
From there, part of the movie explores one of Apatow’s specialties, depicting the ways that men talk to each other, either out of ignorance or one-upmanship. Ben and his friends are awash in a verbal flood of obscenities, insults, and dangerous misinformation. When they harangue Ben for getting Alison pregnant, they tell him he should have made Alison get on top, because everyone knows a woman can’t get pregnant in that position. They construct an elaborate bet where their fellow man-child, Martin, agrees to not cut his hair or beard for a year, and then insult him mercilessly to the point of inflicting a near-nervous-breakdown as the beard grows.
This bubble of adolescence is countered by Alison’s world, populated by her sister Debbie, (Leslie Mann), Debbie’s husband Pete, (Paul Rudd), and their two daughters. Pete and Debbie bicker constantly, hardly providing a shining example of happy responsibility for Ben and Alison. Debbie initially comes across as a harpy, but it’s obvious that she operates out of fear of losing Pete, of growing old, of seeing her sister make mistakes, and protectiveness. Pete, for his part, constantly lies about his whereabouts. He’s not to having an affair, but goes to fantasy baseball gatherings, and to restaurants and movies by himself.
Confronted by Debbie, Pete claims that he misses male camaraderie, but this is obviously a weak defense, especially in light of the growing bond that he’s sharing with Ben. Later, Ben defends Pete to Alison, but his own argument, considering the den of man-children from whence he came, also comes off as a half-truth. But Ben, in defending Pete, has obviously missed 16-ton clues to Pete’s dissatisfaction with his marriage via comments about hopes and dreams flying out the window and how children’s “smiling faces point out your inability to enjoy anything”.
As Ben and Alison navigate not only a host of nutcase gynecologists, but also their own doubts and misgivings, they fall in love with each other. This burgeoning relationship, central though it is to the film, is one of Knocked Up‘s few unconvincing elements. Interestingly, it’s not because of Ben and Alison’s different levels of attractiveness, but just because of the movie’s pacing.
Important moments come too soon and sometimes feel like they’re there because they have to be not because they happen organically in the story. To the film’s credit, though, Ben and Alison’s reconciliation is no guarantee of long-term happiness. Knocked Up is a hilarious but messy movie, seemingly torn between its several themes.
Oddly enough, the extra features may add the resolution and added complexity some viewers are looking for. This Extended & Unrated Version contains over three hours of bonus features, ranging from gag reels to video diaries to mockumentaries, including one very involved, very funny piece about Apatow testing numerous big-name actors before settling for Rogen. But the deleted, alternate, and extended scenes, over 50 minutes of them, are a surprisingly rich vein. With few exceptions, this isn’t bottom-of-the-barrel cutting room material, but often top-quality scenes that could have affected the film’s path. To include them all would definitely have made Knocked Up too long.
This extended edition clocks in at two joke-packed hours as it is but really, you have the makings of three or four thematically different movies, here. Several scenes between Ben and Alison, and between Ben’s friends, explore the abortion thread in more depth. The fight between Debbie and Pete, after Debbie discovers Pete in the comforting arms of his fantasy baseball draft, is much more vitriolic and revealing than the one that appeared in the film. Numerous scenes between Ben and his pals reinforce the very camaraderie that Ben revels in, thus providing a stronger argument for its appeal than anything Ben actually says in its defense to Alison.
For a movie based on fear, Knocked Up delivers plenty of laughs, even if you feel a little bit embarrassed to be giggling at yet another joke about balls. But a lot of the film’s humor is based not only on the tension between Ben and Alison but also between the worlds they inhabit. No one is where they want to be, even if some of them don’t realize it yet.
Taken as a straightforward comedy, Knocked Up is extremely satisfying. Even the minor characters, such as Kristen Wiig’s portrayal of Alison’s mumbling, passive-aggressive boss Jill, threaten to steal any scene they’re in. That’s no mean feat amongst the improvisational talent on display here.
Taken as a more serious meditation on adulthood and priorities, though, Knocked Up occasionally shows some stitches. It is strange that it should take a bunch of deleted scenes, which are typically the useless fringes on many, a DVD release to bring the film closer to its true potential.