If the vomit scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin didn’t scare you off nookie for good, here comes Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s latest blow to premarital promiscuity.
Ben (Seth Rogan) is a jobless beerbarian. Broke, stoned, and a resident of—gasp!—the San Fernando Valley, he’s not daddy material. Hell, I wouldn’t even trust him to deliver me a pizza. He’s living every 13-year-old boy’s dream: chilling all day with his buddies and pretending to work on their can’t-miss website that chronicles movie stars’ tits. Back in adultville, Alison (sweet and steely Katherine Heigl) is closer to fame as an on-air host of E! who truly believes that Matthew Fox has something interesting to say. She’s not looking to be a mom, but at least she’s got experience driving her sister Debbie and brother-in-law Pete’s (Leslie Mann and an awesome Paul Rudd) two girls to school and soothing Ryan Seacrest’s hissy fit with a cookie. (Eagerly shaking off the sycophant puppy schtick in his cameo, Seacrest rages at Jessica Simpson before freaking out that he’s sweating.)
The two painfully-matched lovebirds meet at a nightclub where, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how Ben and his dorkasaurus friends got past the bouncer. A dozen beers later, Alison and Ben are suffering through an awkward morning-after breakfast where he has to ask her if they did it. She already wishes they hadn’t. And as neither remembers their difficult condom, they’re not expecting to get pulled back together by a fetus. (Perhaps because Ben’s so immature, it’s shocking his balls have even dropped enough to produce sperm.)
For the first stretch of the pregnancy, Heigl and Rogan are in two different movies: hers, a weepy Lifetime about a glossy, frightened ingénue, his a farce about gynachiatrists and smo-schmortion. Not that Apatow lets the abortion debate go further than Joanna “Mike Seaver’s Mom” Kerns clinically insisting to her daughter that after this mistake is undone, later she can have a “real baby.” Presumably one without what Debbie groans are Ben’s fat genes.
Rogan has defended that political sidestep, claiming Knocked Up wasn’t intended as “a movie about a woman deciding whether she should keep her baby; it was about a woman who decided she was going to keep the baby.” Instead, he and Apatow are interested in the fumbling of two kids who want what’s best and aren’t sure if that’s each other. Ben and Alison’s tentative romance is built on dollhouse fantasies about cute rompers and toys (his friends are psyched he has an excuse to play with Hasbro). When he proposes obligatorily, Ben doesn’t even have a ring; it’s all pretend. But as he bonds with fellow dad Pete, who also married Debbie after she got pregnant, the long-wedded and miserable couple starts to look like a time machine of him and Alison’s future, which frightens them both. As Shrek just learned, with parenthood comes great responsibility, along with emasculation and isolation.
Knocked Up is a funny movie padded out past the two-hour mark, with Apatow’s earnest digressions about love and commitment. The last stretch feels pleasant, but endless, like a favorite song playing while you’re on hold with tech support. (Even with the overlong running time, several attitude shifts feel abrupt.) In interviews, Apatow cops to pouring a lot of his own marital issues into the film. With his terrific real-life wife Mann as shrewish but sympathetic Debbie cast against my new favorite go-to guy Rudd, his second-string couple winds up stealing every scene away from Ben and Alison’s titular prenatal troubles.
For all the baby talk—which includes baby pics of the cast during the credits and a horrific shot of the emerging head that scared me off procreation for another decade—like The 40 Year Old Virgin, it uses its major plot point for jokes and focuses the real energy on the small, unsung, and disastrous complications that arise when two people merge lives. Is lying healthy if it keeps the peace? Are you allowed to be selfish if it helps prolong your sanity and commitment? For Apatow’s man-children who wall themselves away behind sarcasm and emotional defenses like storybook princesses, the biggest hurdle is admitting that they want and need love, and will sacrifice their X-Box—mostly—to have it.