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Ray Pride

By Ray Pride

Knocked Up (2007, *** 1/2)

IN A DECIDEDLY DISINGENUOUS COVER STORY in the New York Times Sunday magazine this past week, Judd Apatow, whose career includes stints at memorable television series like “Larry Sanders Show” and “Freaks and Geeks,” and finally, the commercial and comedic success of his feature debut The 40 Year Old Virgin and of his co-producing efforts, such as “Anchorman” and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, is painted as a cry-prone, damaged man exploiting his own fears and life to make art that both 2007_knocked_up_004.jpgentertains and alarms. While the unkindness of the reporter’s phrasing of certain delicate moments he observes over the course of a year and a half hanging out with Apatow is troubling, there are insights into the comic mind behind these efficient, generous movies.
Seth Rogen plays Ben Stone, a 23-year-old chubby, goofy-funny, um, stoner, who lucks one loosey-goosy night into a hookup with Alison Scott, an older woman who works for E! Entertainment Television. Condom hijinks lead to the titular condition. Ben’s surrounded by a houseful of bosom buddies, all weird and funny but deeply, darkly 23, blurting more puerile humor than you can shake a man-stick at. They’re convinced soon, someday, they’ll start up a website that tells you precisely where you can find the nude scenes in movies; there’s a funny double payoff when they discover someone’s done their dream job already. Mostly, they get high, insult each other, talk about sex, and get high. Accoutrements of the post-collegiate male American lifestyle today litter the sets: bongs, Perfect 10 magazine, Sierra Nevada, Corona, Pacifco, Red Stripe. (The Canadian Rogen speaks in his native cadences, as well as making hilarious references to his Vancouver origins.)

Beyond the inconvenience of becoming pregnant at the onset of her broadcasting career, Alison’s got the example of her older sister, Debbie (Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, about whom I will note for the record I am over the moon about) and Paul Rudd (who’s gone from being threateningly handsome to hilariously charming in recent years; he’s pretty and pretty wonderful, too), 2007_knocked_up_006.jpgwhose marriage with two kids is often at loggerheads. Apatow’s own plays the two daughters, and their battles are as cringe inducing as any of the other deeply realistic stuff that’s in between the inspired gags. Before I knew they were his kids, I wondered how he got away with the scene where one girl brains the other with a toy. (And one of them has the fiercely real yet inspired taunt, “Mommy, I Googled murder.”) That’s the gift of Apatow’s work: he understands the place of mortification; when we’re embarrassed for something we’ve done ourselves, we empathize more with a character who’s just been a dubious shit.
There are so many gags, most of which tend to the far reaches of scatology and obscenity, that even giving a few away won’t spoil the experience. Who on earth would come up with a female ob-gyn slipping during an exam and exclaiming, “That is not your vagina, that is your ass-hole.” That would be the same man who has Ben explain away his frizzy hair in his gravelly, oddly cadenced voice? “I use Jew, that’s what it’s called.” And in the same scene, Jewishness is further underlined with the declaration, “If any one of use get laid tonight, it’s because of fucking Eric Bana in Munich.” Other jokes involve the relentless cajoling of a roommate who’s growing a huge beard on a bet: “’Cos your face looks like a vagina”; “See you, Scorsese on coke.” Plus folk wisdom galore: “It’s not herpes if it’s everywhere.” And while I can’t remember the context, from my notes I can guarantee you, someone does wield the phrase, “buttfucking ham palace.”
But back to Mann: for me, she steals this rude laugh and heart machine, as a fortysomething Tourettic sexpot with a slightly nasal voice, in every scene simmering like a woman still ascending her sexual peak. (Hot.) When she says “Am I hotter than these little bitches?” in a nightclub and hits five or six vocal and comic notes, my eyes went wide. Has a woman ever said, “fuck” this much in an American movie outside of porn? “I’ve had about three Red Bulls in the last fifteen minutes and it’s incredible” is another line she hits out of the park that doesn’t have a swear in it. The most classic may be her delivery while tipsy and hiccupy of the word “cunt.” Here’s the verbal construction: ruing the babysitter waiting for her back home, she says, “Pissy little high school cu—(hic!)” and you don’t think she’ll finish the word, but it comes out like this “Cu-hic!-uh. Cunt!”
Harold Ramis has several scenes as Rogen’s dad, and one of his lines offers a glimpse of how rough, complicated and life-like “knocked Up” is in its restless, relentless fucked-uppedness: “Tragedy? Tragedy is grandmother with Alzheimer’s so bad she has no idea who the fuck I am.”
There are telling details littering every cluttered frame; when Ben and Alison have the 2007_knocked_up_011.jpgpregnancy conversation in a crowded restaurant—“Fuck me”; “You did”—she’s got a bowl of pasta fagioli soup in front her; he’s got a bulging shrimp cocktail. (Even an earthquake serves to offer character revelation.) Director of photography Eric Edwards has done some of the most gorgeous work of recent decades, including Kids, To Die For, My Own Private Idaho and Cop Land, but this is one of the worst looking movies in ages. (The homey homeliness of Once overcomes its grubby palette for different reasons.) Focal lengths are mismatched, close-ups collide against each other, and yet it’s precisely edited and the characters carry the day: visual beauty would get in the way of capturing and calculating the comic reactions of the dozen-plus characters. This is a movie John Hughes never grew up to make. Beneath the scabrous verbal filth, there’s a conservative message that could be embraced by even arch-kooks like James Dobson, that reactionary mouth anointed a spokesman for faith by a credulous media. Family’s worth it, family’s hard, family’s necessary. Oh, and family is hard.

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“With every table in the dining room occupied and me, the only waiter, neglecting the needs of a good fifty patrons, I approached Roth. Holding out Balls as a numbness set into the muscles of my face, I spoke. “Sir, I’ve heard you say that you don’t read fiction anymore, but I’ve just had my first novel published and I’d like to give you a copy.”

“His eyes lifting from his iPhone, he took the book from my hands. He congratulated me. Then, staring at the cover, he said, “Great title. I’m surprised I didn’t think of it myself.”

“These words worked on me like a hit of morphine. Like two hits. It felt as if I was no longer the occupant of my own body. The legs had gone weak, the ears warmed, the eyes watered, the heart rate increased rapidly. Barely able to keep myself upright, I told him, “Thank you.”

“Then Roth, who, the world would learn sixteen days later, was retiring from writing, said, in an even tone, with seeming sincerity, “Yeah, this is great. But I would quit while you’re ahead. Really, it’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”

“I managed, “It’s too late, sir. There’s no turning back. I’m in.”

“Nodding slowly, he said to me, “Well then, good luck.”

“After which I went back to work.”
~ Julian Tepper

“Any form of physical or sexual assault is a very serious matter, potentially a legal matter. But I’m also wondering, what about having some kind of “extreme asshole” clause? I know lots of people who have been abused verbally and psychologically. That’s traumatizing, too. What do we do with that?  It takes a lot of energy to be an asshole. The people I admire most just aren’t interested in things that take away from their ability to make stuff. The people I really respect, and that I’ve met who fit this definition, have a sense of grace about them, because they know that there is no evolving and there is no wisdom without humility. You can’t get better if you behave in a way that shuts people off. You can’t! You don’t have all the ideas necessary to solve something. You don’t! I’m sure if you spoke to Harvey in his heyday and said to him what I just said to you, he would believe that he accomplished all that he had because of the way he behaved.”
~ Steven Soderbergh