Rom-Com Review: "Knocked Up"

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A comedy from Judd Apatow that follows the repercussions of a drunken one-night stand between a slacker character (played by Seth Rogen) and a just-promoted media personality (Katherine Heigl).
3.5

Rating: R
Length: 129 minutes
Release Date: June 1, 2007
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Genre: Comedy / Drama / Romance

When "Knocked Up" came out in 2007, Judd Apatow was on a path of ascension steeper than almost any other filmmaker has enjoyed. While it was only his second title as director, Apatow had spent the past decade plus serving as a writer and producer behind many of comedy's most beloved projects, from "The Larry Sanders Show" to "Freaks and Geeks." What's more, 2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" was a massive success, sharply boosting the career of all involved.

While this was all great for raising the director's profile, it also put a great deal of pressure on the director to deliver with his sophomore feature film. Fortunately, Apatow stuck with the themes and sensibility that had served him so well, as well as quickly solidifying cast of trusty regulars. Not taking any huge chances but still evolving artistically, with "Knocked Up," Apatow and his gang exceed sky-high expectations.

During a pivotal and especially poignant scene in "Knocked Up," Paul Rudd's character Pete asks Seth Rogen's Ben, "Do you ever wonder how somebody could even like you?" Ben responds "All the time." Rather than coming off as whiny, navel-gazing or insecure, this exchange rings honest and piercingly effective. It helps that in this scene the two men are in a Vegas hotel room, in the throes of a misguided psychedelic drug experiment that is nonetheless helping them come to terms with the impending responsibilities of real adulthood.

Like this scene, the entirety of "Knocked Up" deals with themes that are familiar yet presents them in a way that feels exceptionally real. This is due to fantastic work all around, especially from Apatow and his cast. The writer/director clearly has a gift for creating dialogue and characters that are modern and natural, especially compared with the often out-of-touch product that comes from Hollywood.

Fresh from the multiple star-making vehicle "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," Seth Rogen plays Ben Stone. At the beginning of "Knocked Up," Ben is living the man-child's dream. He's not even well into his 20s yet, but his hedonistic lifestyle is already beginning to take its toll. Living with perpetually mind-fogged friends, Ben spends his time partying and working for a ribald website. It is an enjoyable life for someone of Ben's age, but ultimately unfulfilling. All in all, it is a classic setup for an Apatow tale of growth and maturity.

In this admittedly male POV movie, the catalyst for such growth is nothing more than a drunken one-night stand. Katherine Heigl portrays Alison Scott, who, unlike Ben, is on her way to something resembling serious success in life. Alison has a burgeoning entertainment career working for, appropriately enough, the E! cable network. Although Ben and Alison have so little in common, occupying almost opposite spheres of lifestyle and existence, they find themselves at the same club one night. Although an alcohol-fueled one-night stand does take place, Alison feels immediate regret by the light of day and attempts to extricate Ben from her life completely.

However, as the title implies, that one night turns into a pregnancy, and Ben and Alison are now forced by circumstance to have at least some kind of relationship. Alison brings not only the specter of familial responsibility into Ben's life but also her brother-in-law Pete, played by Apatow fixture Paul Rudd. Rudd and Rogen demonstrated their capabilities as a comic team in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," and here they bring that chemistry much further both comically and dramatically. At first, both men appear to have very little in common, but they both end up facing the choice of abandoning their youthful pursuits for a shot at real, grown-up happiness.

Again, the Apatow themes of growing up recur. However, the enjoyment is in watching the situations unfold and the characters change. As with the writer and director's other works, the character development never feels forced or rushed, and even the more comically exaggerated characters never feel contrived. This is where the real strengths of "Knocked Up" come into play. Although there are plenty of genuine laughs, the human drama is just as genuine. The writing, direction and acting are what make "Knocked Up" everything that a comedy-drama should be.

Some detractors of the Judd Apatow style complain of a perceived reliance on the same themes. However, in many cases using the same themes and motifs are actually the sign of a brilliant director. These are cases in which the stories change but are always effective and extremely well done. With "Knocked Up," Apatow proved that his first picture was no fluke and that he is indeed a strong directorial voice with tons of promise for great movies to come.