A few friends of mine who’ve adored Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up at early screenings have nonetheless voiced a similar complaint: There’s no way pin-up-pretty Katherine Heigl would end up with soaked-in-bongwater Seth Rogen, not even while drunk on a gallon of Everclear and stoned on a field of your finest homegrown. Which may be true; this is the geek’s fantasy, after all, not the princess’s.
In Apatowland, the lunch-room loner always winds up with the homecoming queen. It happened on NBC’s Freaks and Geeks, in which nebbishy Sam Weir wound up in a spare bedroom with pom-pom–pushing Cindy Sanders; it happened on Fox’s Undeclared, in which nebbishy college freshman Steven Karp lost his virginity to the adorable Lizzy Exley; and it certainly happened in
The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which nebbishy Asia fan Andy Stitzer put action in his figure with hot granny Trish.
In Apatow’s world, the guy, no matter how frumpy or klutzy, always gets the girl. The writer-director has replaced George Lucas as the geek’s God of Thunder by promoting the nerdling, long confined to Bionic Woman/Wonder Woman girl-on-girl make-believe, to the bedroom, where he is ready to get . . . it . . . on. By which Apatow means, of course: He’s ready to grow up, accept the torturous responsibilities of adulthood, marry, raise loving, compassionate children—and, yeah, maybe move out of the shithole he shares with four slack-ass roomies whose idea of a night out is going to pick up the pizza after emptying Bong Jovi.
If you don’t buy Apatow’s premise that a woman celebrating her promotion to E! on-air correspondent would share her bed with a guy who dreams of operating a nude-celeb website, then wind up trying to get through a pregnancy with him despite the protestations of her sister in whose guesthouse she lives, there’s always a gauzy Richard Curtis romance on cable. And if you’d been paying attention to Rogen’s career, you’d know that he’s an engaging, warm, and real leading man who deserves to get the girl.
Rogen plays a guy named Ben Stone, who’s been stoned most of his adult life—he’s living the dream, he tells his old man (Harold Ramis, genius casting). He lives with four pals, all Apatow veterans who reek of sweat and herb: Jay (Jay Baruchel), Jason (Jason Segel), Jonah (Jonah Hill), and Martin (Martin Starr)—and, yes, the fact that the actors share their characters’ names suggests they’re familiar with short-term memory loss. Together they dream of starting a website called “Flesh of the Stars” devoted to detailing the precise moment when actors shed their clothes in movies.
Heigl, free from the gloomy climes of Seattle Grace Hospital, is Alison Scott, who’s been promoted from E! segment producer to on-air talent, alongside Ryan Seacrest as a delightfully bitchy version of himself. She lives with her sister and brother-in-law (Paul Rudd)—proof that one can be successful and stunted. After her promotion, she goes to a club with her sister (Leslie Mann, the real-life Mrs. Apatow) and winds up in bed with Ben; in the morning, his flabby naked ass serves as a grim reminder of the previous night’s debauched misstep. Turns out, of course, he misunderstood her command to “Just do it already!” the night before and ditched the condom with which he was fumbling; hence, the gift that keeps on giving in nine months. (In Apatow’s movies, men never know how to put on a condom, perhaps because they seldom have the opportunity to use one.)
What happens, of course, is inevitable: A mistake turns into an accidental relationship turns into True Love turns into heartbreak turns into happiness at last, which gives nothing away, because Apatow is not one to betray the characters he loves like family. (In many instances, they are his family: Apatow and Mann’s young daughters appear in the film as Rudd and Mann’s daughters.) It’s the journey—which lasts more than two hours, and feels much shorter—in which the audience is meant to find delight and even a bit of melancholy, as Apatow wrings the biggest laughs from the smallest moments (a trip to the gynecologist, say, or the way Rudd ogles chairs in a Vegas hotel room) and finds absolute truths in fleeting and mundane occurrences (like when Mann’s character finds her husband’s been secretly skipping out on her for a fantasy-baseball draft).
Ultimately, what makes Knocked Up a terrific film—one of the year’s best, easily—is its relaxed, shaggy vibe; if it feels improvised in places, that’s because Apatow trusts his actors enough to let them make it up as they go, like the people they’re playing. It’s more than just a loose-limbed variation on About a Boy. It’s a sincere meditation on adulthood, accountability, and fidelity—and, yeah, getting high.