Sunday, December 02, 2007

Knocked Up

Despite reviews that comment on its warmth and maturity, Knocked Up (2007) is really only a series of Saturday Night Live–type skits. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl bring some depth and humanity to the story of a heavy-set web-designing geek, Ben Stone, who meets attractive television reporter Alison Scott in a bar one night and who, after a lot of beer and talking, fall into bed together. The next morning he can't believe his good fortune (though he cannot remember much of it either) while she is aghast at the naked man she finds sleeping in her bed. Eight weeks later she discovers she is pregnant and calls Ben up for a discussion. The rest of the film is about how they react and adjust to this unforeseen news. Ben's equally geeky friends (an array of types we've seen in other films—nothing new here) congratulate him on his so-called conquest of Alison. Her friends and relatives including her mother advise her to "take care of it," meaning to have an abortion. After seeing the beating heart of the developing fetus on a sonar gram, she decides to have the baby.

Knocked Up does not preach. Alison's decision to have the child is not presented as a preferred option. Rather it is simply a decision she makes. This is not a right-to-life film. If anything, it is a right to choose film. Once the decision is made to bring the child into the world, however, it is difficult not to see a message in Ben and Alison's struggles to adjust to oncoming parenthood and their very different lifestyles and personalities. One review described the film as "conservative" in its depiction of this couple's situation. While that may not be the right term, the film does suggest that acts engender consequences (in this case living consequences) for which those involved bear responsibility. Is this a conservative position, or simply an obvious one? The relationship that Alison wants with another man—the relationship that she looks for with Stone—is one of fulfillment and happiness. The film contrasts the marriage she hopes for with the unhappy one of her sister and brother-in-law—a marriage of unhappiness, neurotic frustration, and betrayal. This is a common contemporary view of marriage—that it is anything but what it is supposed to be. Yet in this film and in 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), which also shows example after example of frustrated people in desperate search of meaningful connections, director Judd Apatow seems to argue that marriage is actually a possible source of happiness and of mature lasting relationships.

The real issue in this film concerns whether Alison and Ben will decide to adjust to one another, whether the consequence they have produced is a reasonable basis for building a marriage. This is not a romantic question. It's a practical one. Alison and Ben are very unlike each other. They would never have been attracted to each other in normal circumstances. But given the special circumstances of Knocked Up, can they make a life together? Should they?

The humor in this film is on the same level as in 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad (2007--produced by Apatow but directed by Greg Mottola)—not much sophistication but a lot of genuine laughs stemming from jokes about human biology, scatology, sex, stereotypes, class differences, and so on.

Apatow may be a successor to Chris Columbus and John Hughes, who together and separately as producers, writers, and directors idealized white-middle-class family life in a seemingly endless series of films from the 1980s and 1990s. Apatow makes raunchier films, but they are, perhaps, more realistic and even more compassionate in their portrayal of characters in need of what society increasingly seems to say they do not need and should not have.

1 comment:

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