Serious Comedy

With all the movies Hollywood has made about romantic love, only a handful hint at the messy, complex, but ultimately rewarding reality. There’s Annie Hall, Woman of the Year, and Dodsworth, but not much more. Curiously, and probably not coincidentally, most of these are comedies.

Now we can add another picture to the list: Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up. After a successful career in television, Apatow hit the big screen two years ago with The 40 Year Old Virgin. Now he’s topped that success with another raunchy-yet-sweet comedy about the complexities and problems of heterosexual romance. This time around, he’s nailed it with a sobering realism beneath the laughs.

Like most romantic comedies, Knocked Up concerns itself with two unlikely people falling in love. But this time the conflict doesn’t come out of a misunderstanding, or disapproving parents, or some other external plot device. It comes out of the fact that these two people really aren’t made for each other, but have been thrown together by that most left-altering of accidents–an unintentional pregnancy.

Ambitious television Alison Scott (the stunningly gorgeous Katherine Heigl) shares a drunken one-night stand with slacker pothead Ben Stone (the stunningly dumpy Seth Rogen). The next morning she’s embarrassed and regretful, and lets him know, more by what she doesn’t say than what she does, that she isn’t interested in pursuing the relationship.

Eight weeks later she discovers she’s pregnant, and he’s the only possible father. She tells him, and after the initial shock wears off, he decides to be supportive and help her with the baby. Slowly, tentatively, they experiment with being friends, lovers, and future parents.

(Is this picture anti-abortion? No. Alison knows that abortion is an option, considers it, and makes a personal choice to go ahead and have this baby.)

But Apatow looks at more than just Alison and Ben’s relationship. Alison lives with her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), Debbie’s husband Pete (Paul Rudd; like Rogen, a Virgin co-star), and their kids. This is not a happy marriage. Debbie insults and belittles Pete, avoids sex with him (although she flirts with one of Ben’s friends), and spies on him to find out if he’s cheating on her. As Ben and Alison consider their own future together, Debbie and Pete’s example doesn’t promise much happiness.

If all this sounds like a heavy, serious drama, relax. While Knocked Up lacks Hot Fuzz’s overwhelming laugh quotient, it’s no slouch in the gag department. Debbie’s hysterical ravings, Ben’s clueless lack of tact, the string of gynecologists from Hell, and Pete’s mushroom-inspired study of Las Vegas hotel chairs help hold the film’s serious subject matter at bay. And Ben’s slacker friends, stupid because they’re drugged or drugged because they’re stupid, bring stoner comedy to a new level.

If you’ve seen The 40 Year Old Virgin, you already know that Apatow has a gift for male camaraderie. Ben’s relationship with his stoner pals, and later with Pete, are not only funny but true to life–and touching. With all of their horseplay and banter, these guys like, love, and support each other. What’s more, the relationship between Alison and Debbie shows that Apatow can handle female camaraderie, as well.

Knocked Up is raunchy, intelligent, true-to-life, loving, and very funny. Any one of those attributes would have made a good movie; all of them make a superb one.