MCN Blogs
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.

Comments are closed.

Movie City Indie

Quote Unquotesee all »

“Would I like to see Wormwood in a theater on a big screen? You betcha. I’d be disingenuous to argue otherwise. But we’re all part of, like it or not, an industry, and what Netflix offers is an opportunity to do different kinds of films in different ways. Maybe part of what is being sacrificed is that they no longer go into theaters. If the choice is between not doing it at all and having it not go to theaters, it’s an easy choice to make.”
~ Errol Morris

“As these stories continue to break, in the weeks since women have said they were harassed and abused by Harvey Weinstein, which was not the birth of a movement but an easy and highly visible shorthand for decades of organizing against sexual harassment that preceded this moment, I hope to gain back my time, my work. Lately, though, I have noticed a drift in the discourse from violated rights to violated feelings: the swelled number of reporters on the beat, the burden on each woman’s story to concern a man “important” enough to report on, the detailed accounting of hotel robes and incriminating texts along with a careful description of what was grabbed, who exposed what, and how many times. What I remember most, from “my story” is how small the sex talk felt, almost dull. I did not feel hurt. I had no pain to confess in public. As more stories come out, I like to think that we would also believe a woman who said, for example, that the sight of the penis of the man who promised her work did not wound her, and that the loss she felt was not some loss of herself but of her time, energy, power.”
~ “The Unsexy Truth About Harassment,” by Melissa Gira Grant