Dir/scr: Judd Apatow. US, 2007. 126 mins.
In 2005, Judd Apatow scored big with the surprise hit, The 40-Year Old Virgin, which, with its novel combination of gross-out elements and old-fashioned, recognisably human emotion, earned critical plaudits and went on to do some $177m box-office world-wide. With his new film, Knocked Up, Apatow, who is listed as director, writer, and producer, stands to do even better.
The jokes, which are in the absolute poorest taste, remain hilarious, while a newer, deeper humanism, sensed in momentary flashes in the earlier film, is now fully on display. This is a movie in which audiences will both laugh and cry, which used to be the gold standard of viewer reaction, and Universal should do very well indeed with this film across the malls of the US, though the particularities of the ultra-American jokes may not travel as well in foreign territories. (Only one-third of Virgin's take was non-domestic.) One suspects, however, that masturbatory, excretory and vaginal jokes have a built-in audience worldwide, even if the ultra-topical one-liners drawn from American popular culture will remain impenetrable to many. It premiered in the Special Screenings section of Austin's SXSW Festival, with wider local release scheduled for June 1 and international territories from mid-August.
Seth Rogen, cast in a secondary role in Virgin is now Ben Stone, our improbable leading man. He's still a fat-boy slacker, a perennial loser with women, who lives fraternity-house style with a bunch of soulmates whose incredibly gross personal habits and ultra-irresponsible male worldview, like a Greek chorus gone awry, provide a great deal of the film's humour. Their excuse for gainful employment is a website they're working on that will provide data regarding the exact timing of the appearance of bared breasts and vaginas in recent movies on DVD.
One night Ben has a drunken sexual encounter with Allison (Heigl, from TV's Grey's Anatomy), which results in her becoming pregnant. The dilemma then becomes whether to have the child or not, whether to leave or to stay, whether, ultimately, to embrace the vagaries of human existence or to stick to an inhuman game plan concerning the direction of one's life and career. Comically gifted Virgin veterans Rudd and Mann play a constantly bickering married couple who provide a brilliant foil to the Allison-Ben relationship.
It is quite simply amazing how much laughter, sadness - and yes, if one dare say it regarding a movie that sets a new standard for grossness - even insight into the human condition that the talented Apatow wrings from this most basic of plot situations. For all its surface silliness, this movie probes the eternal questions regarding male-female relationships more deeply than most serious movies that deliberately set out to do so.
Knocked Up runs a little long - as did Virgin, especially the unexpurgated DVD cut - and could profit by some discreet trimming. At whatever length, it's a film supremely of its own time. Many of the jokes are so topical that one can imagine them turning meaningless, even to Americans, in a year or two. But by then the money will have been made, so who cares' It will be interesting to see whether cinephiles still watch this film 50 years from now, as they do, say, Bringing Up Baby. But a crucial part of a comic movie's task is to try to capture the moment's Zeitgeist, as tellingly as possible, and Apatow and his talented team have brilliantly succeeded in doing so.
Universal International Pictures (Arg, Neth, Sing)
Universal Pictures International (Sp)
Loudon Wainwright III
Eric Alan Edwards