It’s ironic I should see this film after last week’s anti-child tirade. I know I might have been a little harsh, but it was with good reason. A child is, after all, the most permanent of items you could acquire. It’s something that, illness and accident aside, will outlive you. It’s just impossible to get any more permanent than that. It’s a scary concept in general, but Knocked Up deals with the even scarier fear that most women have: what if I get pregnant by mistake? And even worse: what if I get pregnant by a total loser?
It’s the latter that’s the main focus for Alison (Katherine Heigl - off Grey’s Anatomy) after a bit of a mishap with Ben (Seth Rogen - bit-parter in many comedies). Alison has an up-and-coming career on TV. Ben has a lack of job, joy of pot, and gaggle of greasy mates. A drunken night out sees the ’mishap’ take place, and this film deals with the aftermath. It’s from the writer/director of the 40-Year-Old Virgin, so expectations are for gross-out slap stick type goo. What you get is a surprisingly grown-up, insightful comedy.
Rather than cash-in on the American Pie band wagon (it seems people are still trying to cash in, even when that wagon’s old and creaky now), Knocked Up takes a step back, a deep breath, and actually spends time building a plot, characters, and their ever-evolving relationships. This isn’t a film that feels like it’s been “knocked up” in a couple of late night sessions. You don’t get the impression the writers have struggled for a punch-line and thought ‘sod it, make one of them fart instead’.
The comedy is a mish-mash of styles, from sitcom arguments, to stoner gags, to improvised madness, to ‘holy crap I did not want to see that’ shocks. Literally something for everyone. Ben and his friends provide the spaced-out, Clerks-esque banter with references a-plenty, while Alison’s sister and brother-in-law tackle clenched-teeth bickering. This all sits alongside some fairly dramatic fall-outs and, god I can’t believe I’m saying it, but some actual heart-warming moments, strong enough even to puncture the icy confines of my bitter chest.
But Knocked Up also wins points in my book because of its cynical, slightly depressed view of the world. “I wish I could love anything as much as she loves bubbles” sighs brother-in-law Pete (Paul Rudd) as he watches his child play. Poor old Pete has had his life sapped by getting older and having a family. His equally stressed wife Debbie (Leslie Mann), Alison’s sister, gets ever more frantic about getting older, being more unattractive and having zero support from her hubbie. It’s not like I enjoy seeing people unhappy, or having reminders about how rubbish life can sometimes get. It’s just refreshing to see a comedy emerge without a completely rose-tinted view of the romantic world.
An excellent cast certainly helps matters. Seth Rogen plays the likeable loser Ben with a few streaks of selfishness that stoners often show. Katherine Heigl is impressive as Alison and thankfully rises above the ‘token hottie’ role. Meanwhile the ever brilliant Paul Rudd (Anchorman, Friends) is charmingly grown-up and Leslie Mann nails the slightly unhinged but sort of rightly so Debbie. The men V women view is neatly balanced, the men being thoughtless and stupid as expected, but not spiteful and mean, while the women nag and moan to excessive levels, but are on the whole ultimately right (the film isn’t as biased as me, I promise).
Of course, having ‘rom’ stuck in with the ‘com’ means the usual cliches end up applying. A montage of love growing. A falling-out. A montage of people being unhappy. An eventual reconciliation in dramatic circumstances. Aw. But Knocked Up definitely has elements to satisfy many different levels of audience, even those as high and mighty as me. For making me laugh it gains a point, and for doing it in a clever, cynical fashion it gains an extra, making a commendable CF2. And not to brag or anything, but I got a preview of it. For free.