Movie Review: Grossesse surprise
FILM REVIEW: KNOCKED UP
By Michael Phillips
Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
Most comic actors are hyper-aware of how their act is playing at any given moment, whether in the realm of slob comedy or romantic comedy or, in the case of the very funny "Knocked Up," a slobmantic hybrid. The better actors nonetheless go about their business and find a way of simply being (or faking a degree of naturalness), letting the chips fall where they may.
This is the great virtue of Seth Rogen, and of writer-director Judd Apatow's accidental-pregnancy fairy tale, universal in its premise but very L.A. in its particulars. At its best it has a take-it-or-leave-it, laugh-or-don't casualness. Not even an overgenerous 129-minute running time and the late-breaking cliched conflicts of the story line can kill it.
Like Apatow's 2005 smash, "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" is more verbally adroit than it is visually. But Apatow's awfully sharp as a chronicler of contemporary romantic anxieties. Even his gross-out bits, and there are many (the standout here is a memorably disgusting running gag relating to pink-eye), tend not to announce themselves in the usual ways.
Rogen - key supporting player in "Virgin," leading man (or man-boy) in "Knocked Up" - is the ideal Apatow interpreter. On screen, the curly-haired, wide-eyed actor, whose basso marijuano voice belies a jolly satyr's innocence, barely seems like he's doing enough. Then after a scene or two, you realize he's nailing laugh after laugh, like a less manic and tortured John Belushi. "Virgin" wouldn't have been the same without him. Rogen and fellow gamer-slacker-stoner Paul Rudd worked up such a remarkable Mutt and Jeff act in scenes that went less than nowhere in terms of the old bugaboo "moving the story forward," that they outshone everything else in the movie.
In "Knocked Up," Rogen and the wily Rudd take their act center stage. Rogen plays a classic L.A. archetype, the 30ish cinephile and good-time dude whose career ambitions are vaguely tied to the entertainment industry. (He and his roommates, a memorably antisocial crew, are working on starting a nude-celebrities Web site, unaware of the existence of Mr. Skin.)
A one-off with a bright, brittle E! network functionary played by Katherine Heigl leads to an unexpected bonus and a tense second date that is quite wonderfully written. (If you want a capsule version of it, the R-rated international trailer for "Knocked Up" is available on YouTube.) To the surprise of their respective support groups, both halves of this non-couple commit to becoming a couple, lurching forward into a family life.
Much of the humor is simple class-conflict material: Rogen's posse is a bunch of compass-free time-wasters who dazzle each other with riffs on "Munich" and references to "Back to the Future." Heigl's world is corporate and style-conscious, with more money spent on shoes. The E! staffer's sister, played by Leslie Mann (Apatow's wife), has a nice if routinized upper-middle-class life with her husband, played by Rudd (who has a somewhat ridiculous plot-handy secret) and their kids. The sister is quick with advice regarding husband-training: "You criticize them a lot, and they get so down on themselves that they're forced to change."
There's a distinct sag point in "Knocked Up." Apatow engineers artificial reasons for both sisters to break it off with their respective mates, which leads to detours such as a "Swingers"-style trip to Vegas for Rogen and Rudd. Then the story returns to slacker-"Parenthood" mode. It is this mode, I suspect, that will ensure a healthy box-office return.
That's the distinctive thing about both "Knocked Up" and "Virgin": They're shotgun marriages of raunch and centrist home-and-hearth values, and the marriages stick. Wisely, Apatow doesn't throw Rogen out there front and center every minute. Jason Segel plays the most sensitive of Rogen's friends, and the way he purrs to Heigl that he's off to make a protein shake is a master class in underplaying. Harold Ramis, who really does seem to get a kick out of Rogen, shares with him a couple of sequences as our hero's easygoing father.
The real scene-thief, though, is Kristen Wiig, best known as the Target Lady on "Saturday Night Live." She plays an assistant to Heigl's boss at the E! network, and the way she mutters her passive-aggressive comments, with a nervous smile cloaking a universe of envy, with a mere handful of lines, she becomes the comic heroine of 2007. You can't help but wonder how "Knocked Up" would've played with Wiig in the Heigl role. Heigl's plenty skillful, and her "Grey's Anatomy" training in tart rejoinders serves her well. But Wiig, like Rogen, isn't really like anyone else on screen at the moment.
Written and directed by Judd Apatow; photographed by Eric Edwards; edited by Craig Alpert and Brent White; music by Loudon Wainwright III and Joe Henry; production design by Jefferson Sage; produced by Apatow, Shauna Robertson and Clayton Townsend. A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 2:09. MPAA rating: R (sexual content, drug use and language).
Ben Stone - Seth Rogen
Alison Scott - Katherine Heigl
Pete - Paul Rudd
Debbie - Leslie Mann