2007. Judd Apatow
Judd Apatow just doesn’t do it for me. Like The 40 Year Old Virgin before it, Knocked Up has some good laughs and an overdose of heart. Everyone seems to be hailing Apatow as a genius for finding a way to fuse frat-boy humor with chick flick sentimentality, but his attempts at pleasing everyone leave this particular viewer none too pleased at all. First and foremost though, I should say that the film is likely leagues ahead of Wild Hogs and The Ex and many other examples of recent American comedy. It’s no surprise that critics are reveling at anything with a brain when those are the films that make up the playing field, and also there are quite a few things to like about Knocked Up. Chief among them are Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, who both do well with their roles and come across as real people most of the time. Rogen has done nothing but annoy me previously, but he actually possessed some charm here and any doubts that he could carry a film are firmly put to rest early on. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann also give good performances in poorly conceived roles.
All of the problems I have with this film come straight from Judd Apatow. Firstly, I believe that in order for comedy to work and for silly situations to be funny, there has to be no alternative. For example, in American Wedding, the scene where Seann William Scott eats the dog poop is not funny because there are at least ten different solutions that a smart person could come up with before eating the dog poop would enter their brain. However, in American Pie it is funny when Eddie Kaye Thomas has to take a massive, loud shit in the girls bathroom because there is simply no other alternative. So it was difficult for me to go along with the entire movie here when the main character never explains a single good reason why she doesn’t consider abortion. Particularly because Apatow sets her up as a career-driven female with no interest in the father or in parenthood, and with no clear religious beliefs or evidence of a strong family of her own. In fact, her mother only shows up once to strongly suggest she do get the operation. The very word itself is creepily avoided by using euphamisms or rhymes like “schmaschmortion”.
It seemed to me as well, that Apatow has a pretty negative view of women. Every female in the film comes across as shrill, paranoid, stressed and annoying at one time or another, while the men are all cool, funny and laid back. Straight down to Heigl’s mother urging the abortion while Rogen’s dad saying the pregnancy is a great thing and cause for celebration. It’s almost as if Apatow thinks women really are nags all the time and it was his job to try and find some way to humanize it. And why is it that Heigl’s character doesn’t have any friends (except some strangers that turn up for one line exhange outside a baby store)? She spends all her time with her sister, who is clearly much older.
Occasionally the movie gets some subtle moments right and creates some good humor out of the main character’s plight, but for the most part it relies on side characters and broad “Saturday Night Live”-like jokes to get the laughs away from the seriousness of the story. A really great comedy can seemlessly integrate the humor into the plot rather than relegate it to side characters and situations. The same problem can be found in The 40 Year Old Virgin, which doesn’t allot a single laugh to female lead Catherine Keener and gives 80% of them to random members of the Electronics store.
Quick note here. Can Paul Rudd please get away from Apatow? He’s a phenomenal actor and capable of hilarious things, but Apatow has given him nothing to do but whine and complain for two movies in a row and is wasting his talents.
Actually, there’s a point in the movie where Paul Rudd makes a crack about marriage being like an episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” only it lasts forever, and if that sounds familiar it’s because Paul Rudd also has an “Everybody Loves Raymond” joke in The 40 Year Old Virgin. Obviously, Apatow has an affinity for the show or he wouldn’t keep bringing it up and I think it actually shows in his work. In fact, both of his films feel like better done versions of a sitcom like “Raymond” or “Full House” where something bad happens but it all ends with a hug and a lesson. It’s even a sitcom right down to the overweight funny guy and his way too attractive for him wife (or in this case, baby’s mama).