Judd Apatow’s follow up to the fantastic The 40 Year Old Virgin is a disappointment. Knocked Up is one of the funniest films I’ve seen this year so far, but it fails miserably in the dramatic department.
There’s nothing wrong with the characterisations. Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) is a loveable slacker. At 23 he’s jobless and perpetually high on weed, and his only aim in life seems to be a matter of maintaining his current lifestyle. He’s wonderfully funny, but not the sort of person you’d ever want to have to rely on. Then there’s Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), a career-focussed woman who’s on her way up at E! News. Her arrested development only goes so far as living in the granny flat at her sister’s house. There isn’t much these two have in common, except that they go to the same club one night. And hook up. And make a baby.
The problem with this film is that we’re never given a good reason why these two would want to be together in the first place. Alison’s decision to hang with Ben at the club is a surprise to us and her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), and it’s clear she thinks it was a mistake the morning after. When she learns of the result of their night of passion, her decision to tell Ben is understandable, though nothing that happens afterwards is ever satisfactorily explained. I loved both characters, though could see no reason why they would want to be together. Ben only seems to want Alison because he’s never gonna get another chance at someone so hot, and Alison seems to want to be with Ben purely for the sake of the baby (whatever that means). Odd couple romcoms aren’t unusual, but this one really doesn’t explain why the two of them would keep trying at such an inherently flawed relationship. All of it seems to hinge on whether or not Ben reads some baby books, and Alison stops whinging at him. They’re simply not compatible. Why on earth would these two want to compromise so much?
Heigl has the least developed character. The stereotypical whinging mother-to-be at the mercy of her hormones never really makes any sensible decisions. Rogen gets a bit of a character arc, but as I mentioned a lot of it hinges on reading a couple of baby books. The quality of the supporting characters is inconsistent. Ben’s slacker mates are crass without really being that funny, whereas Paul Rudd and Mann are actually quite well written, both lovable but flawed.
This film is a crowd pleaser on the surface. The first half is hilarious, and it’s such a pity that the romance doesn’t ring true, especially considering how The 40 Year Old Virgin cunningly revealed a genuinely touching romance by the end. Apatow makes an interesting decision to play out the labour over almost half an hour, which is a nice change from the ‘oops here’s a contraction/cut/screaming/cut/here’s the baby!’ tradition of screenwriting. The hospital scenes are unfortunately the slowest and least effective of the entire film though. Apatow takes a series of half-steps – deciding to make it real but then holding back – and the result is a bit of a mess (not literally, they’ve cleaned the birth up quite a bit).
I really don’t understand why this film has provoked more positive responses than The 40 Year Old Virgin – I found Apatow’s previous film to be funnier and more dramatically successful. Knocked Up doesn’t effectively tackle its own premise – it’s comedic but unconvincing.Rating: