What separates the films and television series of Judd Apatow
from the rom-com epidemic (I feel that term is fair) is a singular word: growth. Apatow's works spend time with their characters, main and supporting, enough so that we can sincerely laugh with them and understand their decisions. It goes for his oeuvre overall as well: from the troubles of teenagers (Freaks & Geeks) to the pre-paranoia of college life (Undeclared) to the struggle of leaving your youth behind (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Apatow builds, thematically, with each project. And that's how we finally come to Knocked Up.
Ben (Seth Rogen
) holds onto drugs and buffoonery the way Andy in Virgin held onto childhood/teenage obsession. He spends his days smoking cannabis, making herpes jokes with his roommates and marking when celebrities get naked in films for a forthcoming website, FleshoftheStars.com. It's at a local club that he meets Alison (Katherine Heigl
), a newly-promoted correspondent for the E! network. After a fumbling flirtation and a bevy of drinks, Ben and Alison return to her sister's guest house, willing and ready to make a mistake. That mistake blooms, after 8 weeks, into an unexpected pregnancy, forcing Ben into adulthood and Alison into a relationship that mirrors her sister Debbie's (Apatow's wife Leslie Mann
) marriage to Pete (the reliable Paul Rudd
). Article continues below
There is nothing admirably romantic about Ben and Alison's relationship but there's a sincere sweetness to it. He thinks she's a queen and she thinks he's an adorable screw-up, but there's no moment of concession that they were written in the stars. The pregnancy got them together and keeps them together because he's reliable and nice while she's understanding and loving. Their relationship isn't perfect, just perfectly modern.
The film's humor and eventual triumph stem from the fact that nothing is set up. These are just honest and funny characters that like to laugh as much as we do, not a constant gatling-gun of one-liners. The reason for this partially comes from Apatow's ability to pack the best comedic actors into his films, even the bit parts. Besides a never-better Rogen and a loosened-up Heigl, Apatow alumni Martin Starr
, Jason Segel
, Jay Baruchel
, and Harold Ramis
, brilliantly cast as Ben's father, make generous contributions.
The heart of the film blooms from this family dynamic that Apatow creates in his candid, clear-eyed approach to life's absurd mysteries. By the way, it's in the blood: Apatow's daughters play Alison's nieces with deft comic timing. Even funnier is the way the film constantly refers to Spider-Man 3
, another summer movie about growing up, albeit a terrible one. But Apatow refers to it more as a common thread, not as a modern marker. At first, a character rushes to see it and then a character is heartbroken that her husband didn't wait to see it with her. It's a small moment that explains Apatow's universe: Adult misfits running away to their hobbies to hide from their women and their responsibilities, rather than attempting to share. Apatow knows growing up is a rough patch of grass but he wants to understand it. Such lofty ambitions seem to have been largely banished from romantic comedies, but here, it gives Knocked Up an honest timelessness.