June 15, 2007

"Knocked Up" - Yet Another Review

It seems like a lot of bloggers are throwing their two cents in about this movie. Since I saw it last night I thought I’d jump in.

You’re probably familiar with the premise so I won’t waste time rehashing all that. I think what struck me most about both the story and characters was how grounded in reality they were. You can argue all day whether or not a knock-out like Alison would actually grow to love a stoned unemployed loser like Ben if you like. Realistic or no, she let herself recognize his positive qualities rather than dwell on the negative. She clearly wrestled with it and was probably as surprised as anyone that along the way she found she did love him.

I saw this with a buddy of mine (also a father of three) and he made the comment that it was as funny as it was depressing. The situations were that real for him. There’s a scene where Ben is talking with Alison’s brother-in-law, Pete, who explains that “Marriage is like a tense, unfunny version of ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’. Only it doesn’t last 22 minutes. It lasts forever."

This isn’t a Hollywood fairy-tale where everything goes right. Real life doesn’t work that way. Marriage is difficult. Parenthood is difficult. Long-term commitments are difficult. And there are no guarantees. But are usually enough wonderful, magic moments to make it worthwhile. Every generation learns this. But I think the lesson is a little harder for succeeding generations because our expectations keep going up. And I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t try to oversimplify the situation. The fact is, until the very end, you really aren’t 100% sure how this is all going to work out.

There is a message to this film that is meaningful for all who watch it. Early on, Ben is talking with his father about his situation and lamenting that this isn’t what he planned for his life. His dad, played perfectly by Harold Ramis, simply smiles at him and tells him “Life doesn’t care about your plans. Sometimes it just happens and you gotta role with it.”

The movie starts with an interesting premise. But to make it succeed you need three things: good writing, good acting and good execution. Like the legs of a stool, if one is missing it will collapse under it’s own weight. Fortunately, “Knocked Up” has all three. How many times do we watch a film and no matter how hard we try in the end we just don’t really care all that much about the characters? A little too often, I’m afraid. In this movie, we connect to the characters. When couples fight we don’t say to ourselves “Why do they say such stupid things to each other?” Rather, we feel more like “I probably would have reacted the same way.” I felt the pacing was just right, though I've heard some felt it was too long.

A lot has been said about the “raunch” factor of “Knocked Up”. I didn’t see it that way. In every case, I saw it as guys being guys when they hang out together. Face it, ladies. Men often show flashes of maturity and responsibility. We come through when it counts. But underneath (to varying degrees, of course) we all have one thing in common: we’re not much more than overgrown adolescents. We do and say silly things. We laugh at bathroom humor. We have fun at each other’s expense. We act like goofy kids sometimes. It’s like a release valve. If we didn’t loosen it every once in a while – believe me – you’d like it a whole lot less.

As for the actors:

Katherine Heigl (Alison) has real appeal as an actress. I can’t speak to what she’s like in reality but on screen she is what I call “approachable gorgeous”. In other words, she’s a women who is obviously beautiful but doesn’t act like that’s a given. She’s got a great gig with “Grey’s Anatomy” but if she chooses her next movie roles carefully she could be a huge star - like Julia Roberts, only with actual talent and sex appeal.

Seth Rogen (Ben) is the slacker ne’er do well who can hardly believe that he ended up in bed with Alison in the first place. He’s lazy, unmotivated and fairly self-centered. But we see the sweet qualities that Alison discovers and you can’t help but root for him. Rogen plays pretty much the same role as he did in “The 40-Year Old Virgin” without the self-confidence. He does mature a bit throughout the film and it’s satisfying to watch.

Paul Rudd (Pete) is perfect as the average Joe, fairly straight-laced guy who lets his inner-kid out once in a while.

Leslie Mann (Debbie) plays Alison’s older sister. Mann does a fine job with Debbie’s character arc which allows the audience to realize the vulnerabilities and insecurities under her control-freak façade.

Then there are Ben’s cohorts – Jason (Jason Segal), Jay (Jay Baruchel), Jonah (Jonah Hill) and Martin (Martin Starr). Interesting that the actors all used their real first names for their characters. The sources of many of the laugh out loud moments, these guys are Ben’s support group. And they’re more than just a group of pothead underachievers. They’re true friends and they add texture to the story.

One last item I’d like to comment on is the treatment of Alison’s decision to have the baby. No one feels more unprepared for this impending birth than she does. Her mother advises her to “take care of it” like her stepsister did in a similar situation. “And now she has a real baby”, her Mom says. Ben’s buds even debate whether or not they think Alison should get an abortion (Jonah is pro, Jay is con). None of these exchanges makes an attempt to politicize the issue itself but they make you realize that the decision is a difficult one for Alison. She doesn’t seem to have a particular “moment of clarity”, rather you get the idea that she decides to do what instinctively feels right for her.

I have my own personal feelings on this issue (as we all do) and I don’t like being preached at one way or the other by a movie. The story has more to do with the consequences of the decision than the decision itself. And while that decision is not taken lightly it isn’t overblown. Alison’s resolve to have the baby does dovetail with Ben’s father’s advice that in life “you gotta roll with it”. But it doesn’t alienate the portion of the audience who might feel differently.

As someone who grouses from time to time about liberal propaganda and political correctness in movies today, I know how it feels to experience that alienation. Movies should be about entertainment, not political agendas.

So, in this viewer’s opinion, “Knocked Up” was about as enjoyable an experience at the movies that I’ve had in some time. Guys will like it. Gals will like it. And it’s “R” rated for a reason. So don’t go bringing your young kids along just because you’re too cheap to pay for a babysitter. Let them grow up first. They can watch it on DVD down the road. And they’ll appreciate the message more.

Posted by Gary at June 15, 2007 11:00 AM | TrackBack