Knocked Up (2007) – Two Guest Reviews

No, I haven’t seen Knocked Up yet. I’ll probably wait for the DVD, due to my all-consuming, deadline-driven book project right now.

But some Looking Closer readers have seen it, and lo… two of them have submitted their own reviews. I’ll be putting these up on the main Looking Closer movie page soon, but if you’re anxious to read them, well, here they are — perspectives from Carissa Turner Smith and Darryl Armstrong.

Is it strange that the most moral comedies in today’s Hollywood are also the raunchiest?

Director Judd Apatow’s two feature films have, while peppering their two hours with profanity and explicit sexual humor, advocated sweetness and responsibility, above good looks, as essential for today’s American male. 2005’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin ended up affirming a character who doesn’t have sex until his wedding night; Knocked Up celebrates the inherent value of life and holds out the hope that personal transformation is possible.

Both films are really about the male protagonist’s growth, which is why, ultimately, Knocked Up is the less successful of the two; in a plot centering around an unexpected pregnancy, it seems like the female protagonist’s journey ought to be at least as important as the male’s. Knocked Up tries to devote some attention to the emotional and physical struggles of Alison (Katherine Heigl), who ends up pregnant after a drunken one-night stand with stoner and slacker Ben (Seth Rogen). Her difficulties are clearly not at the heart of the film, however. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, Apatow makes a telling comment: “[At first] I thought Knocked Up was about two people trying to decide if they liked each other. But people have such an affection for her [Katherine Heigl] that it became this movie about Seth Rogen trying to earn Katherine Heigl.” He doesn’t seem to realize that putting a female character up on a pedestal denies her the opportunity to change and grow — in other words, to be a real character.

The problem with Knocked Up’s female characters extends to Alison’s sister Debbie (played by Leslie Mann, Judd Apatow’s real-life wife). Debbie shares many of the concerns common to married women with young children: she wants her husband (Paul Rudd) to spend more time with the family, she wants him to take the children’s safety more seriously, she worries that she’s losing her attractiveness. Yet Debbie is such a screechy harridan that I doubt many women will appreciate being forced to look into this distorted mirror. She’s not the sort of comic character who can inspire change by leading you, amid laughter, to recognize your own faults in her; rather, she’s a male vision of the nightmarish wife, and thus she really speaks to men’s fears instead of women’s.

Perhaps Alison and Debbie could have been more complex characters if Apatow had not felt the need to devote so much screen time to small cameos. Ryan Seacrest appears playing Ryan Seacrest, The-40-Year-Old Virgin’s Steve Carell gets interviewed — as Steve Carell — by Alison, who works for a television program similar to Entertainment Tonight. Many reviewers have praised the plethora of pop-culture references in Knocked Up, but it seems more likely that these knowing winks will render the film outdated within ten years.Another distraction is Ben’s set of toked-out buddies, played by, it seems, every young male who has ever been in one of Apatow’s canceled TV comedies. Fans of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared (and I am one) may appreciate these familiar faces, but other viewers may be puzzled as to why these guys are supposed to be worthy of our sustained attention. Yep, they’re potheads and losers. That’s about all we need to know, and we don’t need it drummed into our heads in order to appreciate the delicate negotiations Ben must accomplish to remain friends with them while also “growing up” into Alison’s world.When the film does focus on the difficulties of changing for someone you love, it’s at its strongest — and this is a constant Apatow theme, one he does with more realism and heart than any other director working today. One of the best scenes in The 40-Year-Old Virgin is one in which the titular character, Andy, who has been selling off his comic-book action figures at the urging of his love interest Trish, finally gets fed up. The argument that ensues — in which she points out that she never asked him to change for her — is closer to the truth of relationships than anything I’ve seen in a romantic comedy. It’s your fear that you may lose yourself, contending with your hope that you will.Similar scenes characterize Knocked Up, though none are quite so poignant as the one from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, because, unlike Andy, Ben has an obvious need to change. Bongs and babies are not a good combination — though we learn that Ben’s father smoked marijuana during his son’s growing-up years. His father has also been divorced three times, leading him to ask Ben, “Why do you come to me for relationship advice?” Many grown-up children of Baby Boomers can no doubt relate to the struggle of Ben and Alison to create a healthy, lasting relationship when they have no good models to draw from.

Speaking of poor role models, Alison’s mother is even worse than Ben’s father. After Alison has discovered that she’s pregnant, her mother encourages her to “take care of it” so that she can continue with her career. The film clearly expects us to be as horrified as Alison is when her mother reminds her that her stepsister had an abortion and went on with her life — and, the mother adds, “Now she has a real baby” — as if a life has to be planned in order to be real. No wonder Alison is so driven to succeed; will she live up to her mother’s decision to bestow life upon her?

Ben’s father, on the other hand, in spite of his obvious character flaws, dishes out some of the most meaningful statements of the film. Ben’s lack of initiative — and of a job — doesn’t stop his dad from telling him that his son is the best thing that ever happened to him. Ben jokes that this makes his dad’s life seem even more pathetic, but he’s clearly touched by his father’s unconditional love, and it inspires him to try to be a good father to this unexpected little life that he’s helped to create. Judd Apatow’s own young daughters appear in the film, as the on-screen daughters of Debbie and Pete. No doubt his own experiences as a father contribute to the film’s view of the goodness of new human life.

Knocked Up may not be a movie that many Christians want to see: the drug use is constant and the sexual humor pretty extreme. However, we should be able to recognize the value of a comedy with a moral message — a comedy that actually has a chance of communicating that message to those who most need it. Surely we who celebrate the Incarnation of Jesus Christ — God’s communication of Himself at our human level — can appreciate that, even if the movie isn’t something we feel called to see.

- Carissa Turner Smith blogs at www.theottery.com

And now a man’s perspective:

In a summer filled with blockbuster sequels that seem to spin wildly out of control, introducing enough plots and characters to make those mythology diagrams from high school seem simple, who would have guessed a romantic comedy would actually juggle all those elements successfully?Judd Apatow, the creative mastermind behind 2005′s The 40 Year Old Virgin and the cult TV hit series Freaks and Geeks returns with another sex related comedy that’s sure to cause as many controversial discussions as it is laughs.

Everyman slacker Ben Stone (Seth Rogen, in an understated breakthrough role) winds up spending the night of his dreams with the beautiful, career minded Alison Scott (Katherine Heigel, also delivering a powerful performance for a comedy) and winds up making the biggest mistake of his life. Or does he?Given the title of the film, it wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that Ben’s one night of bliss turns out to be the beginning of nine stressful but ultimately joyous nine months.If you have read any reviews of the film, you’ve probably already heard a lot about the films “pro-life” position. After a short scene discussing her options with her mother who recommends an abortion, Alison decides to keep the baby. But the film doesn’t linger on this decision and I don’t think the audience is meant to either.The subject that does get explored in more thorough detail is the relationship between Ben and Alison as they contemplate bringing a child into the world and their possible future together. We see their awkwardness together as two people who barely know each other try to plan and manage a pregnancy and begin a relationship at the same time we see Alison’s sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, director Apatow’s real life wife) struggle with her relationship with her husband Pete (Paul Rudd).

Pete and Debbie have been married for many years, but still struggle understanding each other after having a shotgun wedding themselves. At one point Debbie suspects Pete of having an affair, and without giving away too much, it turns out that Pete is actually engaging in something much more predictable but ultimately just as hurtful to Debbie.

That scene exemplifies just how this movie works and works successfully. It deals with real human emotions, by turns comedic and tragic. It never spirals to far into the darker side of human interaction, but it does acknowledge and take into account human failure and misunderstanding.

The comedic elements are rarely over-the-top, but are often laugh-out-loud funny. At times it delves it crass behavior, but given the characters, not unbelievably so.

For movie and music fans, this film will be a treasure hunt of film and music references to discover. Loudon Wainwright III, along with Joe Henry, provides original music for the film and makes a cameo appearance as the doctor Ben and Alison choose to deliver their child. Pete wears a Tom Waits T-Shirt as he discusses the decline of the music industry. A poster of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind decorates the soon to be born baby’s room.

At this point, I ought to mention that this film touched me on a rather personal level. I recently proposed to my now fiancée, who as of this past week is four months pregnant. As a Christian and a sinner, I feel a sense of bittersweet appreciation for this film. It is encouraging and inspiring that a summer Hollywood film would deal with pregnancy and male-female relationships in such a life-affirming and intelligent manner. But it is also a little disheartening to see many Christian critics blast the film for it’s subject matter.

I am reminded of Philip Yancey’s example in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? of how much more powerful the good news of the gospel would be if we as Christians could welcome a prostitute into our communion instead of shunning her as a sinner. The simple fact is, we are all sinners and have fallen short of God’s glory. But how we deal with our actions and decisions is how our light will shine to the world. None of us will live sinless lives, but by the Grace of God and our own willingness to show that grace to others, we will be true Christian disciples.

Knocked Up is the most fun I’ve had in a movie theater this year. And it might even make you think about your own life and how you relate to others, a rare enough feat for any Hollywood movie, let alone a comedy.

- Darryl A. Armstrong is an advertising executive and freelance writer who lives in Las Vegas, NV. He is expecting his first child with his fiancée in November.

Anybody else want to argue or contribute a contrasting perspective?

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