Wednesday, June 06, 2007

 

Freaks & Geeks shall inherit the mirth

By Edward Copeland
Judd Apatow seems to defy just about everything one might hold true about certain forms of comedy. By and large, I subscribe to Jeffrey's 90-minute rule that comedies pushing their luck if they extend much past that running time, but Apatow provided a glowing exception to that rule with The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, the most I've laughed at a recent movie in ages. Then on top of that, he now seems to specialize in extremely vulgar comedies that, at their heart, hide family friendly messages: staying pure until marriage in the case of Virgin and now staying together for the sake of an unexpected baby in Knocked Up. Unfortunately, while Virgin manages to keep its momentum throughout its long running time, Knocked Up doesn't bear its extra frames as well, coming off as a bit flabby. Despite its need for some judicious trimming, it's still ends up as an entertaining way to spend your time.


One thing proving so special about Apatow's films, especially for fans of his great and short-lived TV series Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared, is his penchant for bringing back his extended family time and again, making each enterprise feel as if you've been invited to the reunion as well. Seth Rogen, part of the great ensembles of both Freaks and Undeclared, gets the lead role of Ben Stone in Knocked Up, a stoner/slacker who believes that "weed cures everything" and lives off the dwindling proceeds of a postal truck accident with dreams of an Internet fortune made from a Web site that tracks nude scenes in movies.

Other Apatow alumni along for this ride include Jason Segel (also of both Freaks and Undeclared), Jay Baruchel (Undeclared), Martin Starr (Freaks), Apatow's real-life wife Leslie Mann and two who have joined his creative clan in his films, Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill. Loudon Wainwright III of Undeclared even pops up briefly and provides part of the score and Freaks alum James Franco makes a good-natured cameo as himself. Knocked Up feels as if you're being welcomed home, but that doesn't give it an automatic pass: It still must work as a movie as well and while most of it does, it doesn't quite hit all its marks.

As most should know by now, the premise involves drunken sex between Ben and the in-normal-circumstances unattainable babe Allison (Katherine Heigl), just promoted to on-air talent at E!, that results in an unexpected pregnancy. (The E! setting also provides a priceless Ryan Seacrest cameo, showing that he's got great humor about himself.) In fact, Allison's extreme denial early on prompts her sister (the great Mann) to ask if she's one of those women who won't realize she's pregnant until she's on the toilet and a baby falls out.

So, with great hesitancy, Allison shares the situation with an understandably shocked Ben. However, he then embraces the idea of a pending spawn, even though he's nowhere near ready for any responsibility. Ben seeks advice from his thrice-married dad (Harold Ramis) who tells him that he's the best thing that ever happened to him, which Ben says only makes him feel sad for him.

The rocky relationship of Allison's sister and her husband (Rudd) gives both Ben and Allison reason to pause. Mann and Rudd both deliver great comic performances laced with pain, especially Mann who plays a character similar to Laura Dern's in Year of the Dog but Mann never sinks to caricature at the expense of humor. Rudd finds marriage to be disappointing, commenting that he wishes he liked anything as much as his kids like bubbles and comparing matrimony to a tense, unfunny episode of Everybody Loves Raymond that lasts a lifetime instead of 22 minutes.

Parts of Knocked Up remain hard to swallow. Allison's decision to try to form a lasting relationship with Ben, even if she's decided to keep the baby, seems sudden and unconvincing. You believe that he'd fall in love with her, but it sounds odd when she says the same thing once she's sober.

Despite misgivings, the film does elicit a lot of hearty laughs and even some touching moments. One favorite speech gets delivered by a doorman at an exclusive nightclub.

In the interest of full disclosure, I did not have an ideal viewing experience. For some reason, an idiot couple thought that an R-rated comedy called Knocked Up, which wears its vulgarity proudly on its trailer, looked like an appropriate film to show their 3-year-old. The kid wouldn't shut up and the parents would take him out of the theater, then bring him back. Finally, I yelled in the dark, "Take the damn kid home already." Thankfully, the kid stayed pretty quiet after that. It always helps to put the fear of God – or at least angry audience members – into people.

It's also ironic, given the movie. Sorry folks: If you can't afford a baby sitter, get ready for a few years without moviegoing. You had a child, don't make the rest of the moviegoing public pay for it.


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Comments:
that's an interesting concept of aptow doing vulgar comedies with family friendly messages.

what family friendly message will he follow this one up with?
 
I think Apatow's treatment of women in this film is a major step down from Catherine Keener's character in 40-YOV. I'm surprised Grey's Anatomy lady didn't have teeth in her cooch like the woman in that Sundance Festival movie. Knocked Up basically states that women are castrating shrews waiting to trap you and force a guy to give up anything that defined him prior to her arrival. While Knocked Up is funny enough to recommend, I couldn't completely shake the misogyny. For example, the whole fantasy baseball subplot paints such an unflattering portrayal of the women in this film, to the point of absurdity.

I'm surprised that more women critics and viewers haven't pointed this out. Perhaps they have the philosophy that I have on Blaxploitation movies. "Well, there's all that stereotype BUT WE WIN IN THE END!"

I didn't find either main character especially likable, but Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd walk off with this picture, as do the folks who have cameos.
 
I agree that Rudd and Mann come off best, but I didn't really get a misogynistic vibe off Heigl's character. Every time she goes loopy, they blame it on hormones. I just found a hard time believing how fast she decides that her only answer is trying to manufacture a relationship with Rogen after one night. I can understand her ruling out abortion and deciding to keep the baby, but it seemed unlikely that she wouldn't even consider raising the child on her own.
 
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