Saturday, June 02, 2007

MOVIES: Knocked Up

How good was Knocked Up? It made me respect Ryan Seacrest. That's how good.

It's beginning to seem Judd Apatow can do no wrong. From Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared on TV to The 40-Year-Old Virgin on film -- the guy knows funny. Apatow wrote and directed Knocked Up, and brought along a large contingent of familiar faces, including Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Martin Starr, and James Franco (in a cameo as himself), all from Freaks, Jay Baruchel and Loudon Wainwright III from Undeclared, and Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann (Apatow's wife), Jonah Hill, and Steve Carell (another self-cameo) from Virgin. Also present: Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig, two of the funniest performers on the current staff of SNL; B.J. Novak and Craig Robinson (in a hysterical role as a bouncer with hurt feelings) from The Office; Freaks creator Paul Feig; Alan Tudyk (Wash from Firefly and Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball); and, randomly, Harold frickin' Ramis. I don't know about you, but to me, that cast spells KICK ASS, and they do not disappoint. (Also, Katherine Heigl from some TV medical soap opera co-stars. She's okay, too, I guess.)

Premise: Rogen and Heigl have a drunken one-night stand, and whoops, they make a baby. The two of them try to overcome their many and vast differences during the pregnancy. Rogen, a layabout stoner with dreams of launching a nude scene-cataloguing website, gets poor advice from his layabout stoner friends Segel, Baruchel, Hill, and Starr; Heigl, an up-and-coming reporter for the E! channel, has all the wrong examples of parenting and relationships set for her by her sister Mann's contentious marriage to Rudd. Hilarity ensues. No, really!

Every person in the cast has a fine comedic touch (even Heigl holds her own, though she's plainly less adept at free-flowing improv than the rest of the crew). Even Rudd and Mann's daughters (played by Apatow and Mann's actual daughters) are very sweet and funny; the older daughter's description of how babies are born is a riot. Other highlights include Rogen and Rudd's psychedelic mushroom-induced freakout in Las Vegas; Rogen's attempts to have sex with a very pregnant Heigl (she objects being made to feel like a dog by his suggestion of doggie style; he insists, "It's doggie style... we don't have to go outside or anything"); the running gag about Starr's facial hair (it looks like "the back of Robin Williams' knuckles"); Rogen & crew's obscene sex pantomimes when Heigl is on the phone; and, yes, Ryan Seacrest, whose hilarious profanity-laced breakdown instigated by Jessica Simpson running late for an interview has definitely won my respect. A little bit of it, at least.

The film is squarely in the fashion of Virgin, an extremely raunchy sex comedy with a heart and genuinely interesting and sympathetic characters. I would go so far as to say it's equally as funny, which is high praise. Where it falls short of that previous film, I think, is in the transitions between one comedy setpiece to another (which, now that I think of it, Virgin also suffered from, to a lesser degree). Often, it feels like, merely to get to the next plot point, characters act far more reprehensibly than is plausible for them at that stage (above and beyond Heigl and her hormonal mood swings), and just as often, turnabouts for the better in character and fortune feel more forced than natural. Also, though I'm a big fan of Rogen's, Carell was simply a more appealing and emotionally-relatable lead. But the sheer quantity and quality of laughs more than make up for a hitch here and there.

Two other random notes. One: for a raunchy sex comedy, Heigl's obvious contractual clause not to remove her bra during sex scenes is frankly silly and distracting. (Same with her bath scene, with the strategically-positioned bubbles.) I'm not saying, "She must be nekkid!!" I'm saying, compensate for it, and shoot around it however you can, even if you have to rely on the old stand-by, the almost-as-unbelievable all-covering blanket. Back me up here, guys -- by which I mean, anyone who would be sexually interested in Katherine Heigl (and I put this as delicately as possible): you find yourself lucky enough to be in bed with a woman with those attributes, that bra is coming off, end of story.

And two: this is the second film within a year to feature an explicit shot of crowning during childbirth (the other was Children of Men). Is this the new trend, the new boundary-breaker? Is crowning, I ask you, the new visible semen (as established by There's Something About Mary and American Pie a few years back)?

Wow. What a weirdly uncomfortable note to end on. San Dimas High School Football rules!!

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