The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Knocked Up

Reviewed by James MacDowell.

Director Judd Apatow
Length 129 mins
Certificate 15
Rating ********--
Filmmaking: 4  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article Knocked Up tells the story of Ben (Seth Rogan), an under-achieving slacker, and Alison (Katherine Heigl), a driven TV presenter on her way up, who embark on a drunken one-night-stand that results in far more than either bargained for. What follows is a clash of lifestyles, of sexes, and of attitudes to adulthood, as the two try to work out if and how they can deal with the consequences of impending parenthood.

This is the sophomore film from Judd Apatow, the writer/director of the wonderful but ill-fated high school series Freaks and Geeks(1999-2000). Cancelled before its time, Freaks and Geeks has since found a dedicated cult audience who respond to its uncommonly sensitive and realistic depictions of teenage life. Yet the show’s cancellation has clearly haunted its creator, who has since struggled both to find suitable outlets for his particular style of carefully nuanced comedy-drama, and provide platforms for the many great young talents he discovered on the series.

As such, Knocked Up is in many ways a triumphant return for Apatow: both to the collection of people responsible for the show (F&G regular Rogan is now the star, and many other alumni have supporting roles), and for the tone and spirit in which it was conceived - an approach that intelligently balances uproarious humour with sharply-observed characterisation and dramatic conflict. Apatow’s previous movie, the very funny The 40-Year-Old Virgin, was an attempt towards recapturing this style, but weighted itself far more strongly on the side of its high-concept comic set-pieces than did Freaks and Geeks. Knocked Up, by contrast, still contains much in the way of laddish humour, but it is here handled in such a way as to never appear entirely unfeasible or unmotivated, and is also incorporated within a plot that is far stronger and offers more intriguing situations and characters. As such, it achieves a much more satisfying balance of the ridiculous and the sincere - if not exactly, then almost, the same balance that made Freaks and Geeks so refreshing.

The raucous comedy here (which is likely what will draw most to the film in the first place) is lewd and silly in just the right measure for its purpose: it is rarely stand-alone, but rather part of a larger picture of the ways in which young men actually relate to the world. All the pop culture references are spot on too: many conversations hit quite precisely a particular sense of what it means to have grown up in the 80s and 90s; it may not be quite zeitgeist-defining, but this is very much a film acutely aware of its time and generational place. Unusually for a modern comedy, the story itself here also often reveals unexpected depths: we are not currently used to seeing such interesting and realistic portrayals of male-female relationships in Hollywood comedy. In fact, we probably haven’t seen this kind of careful skewering of certain types of human interaction in ‘mainstream’ American comedy since the halcyon days of Woody Allen.

The film is not perfect, and is not quite the masterpiece that some are claiming it to be: some character development is a little rushed (somewhat surprising, given the running time), a few elements snag slightly on the largely realist story (why is abortion never considered as a serious option?), and some scenes seem frustratingly slight and/or brief. Nevertheless, for its deeply-felt and empathetic treatment of its characters, for its many effortless comic high-points, and - more importantly - for its ability to successfully fuse the two, this is very highly recommended indeed.

This review was published on September 06, 2007.

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