Not Knocked Out by 'Knocked Up'

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Suzanne Hanover / Universal

Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) and Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) shop for baby clothes in Knocked Up.

The bandwagon started rolling quietly enough: an early profile in TIME about its barely known star, very enthusiastic reviews, and an opening box office weekend that outperformed analysts' estimates. Knocked Up, a comedy about a young career woman (Katherine Heigl) who finds herself pregnant after a one-night stand with a chubby stoner (Seth Rogen), finished its first three days at $30.7 million — which happened to be, almost exactly, the movie's very modest budget. That number was enough to make the film a sturdy second last weekend to the mega-threequel Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, which took in $44.2 million. But as the Depp ship was running aground, Knocked Up was gaining mo. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, it took in more money than Pirates did.

These could be the legs of a comedy hit on the order of There's Something About Mary, the Farrelly Brothers romantic farce that lingered near the top of the box office heap all summer of 1998, finally made the No. 1 slot in its ninth week, earned $176 million in North America and (rare for a comedy) even more abroad, and won Cameron Diaz a Best Actress citation from the New York Film Critics Circle. Knocked Up could do even better, based on the rapturous reviews — the most favorable of any mainstream movie this year, according to the Rotten Tomatoes website. I wouldn't be amazed if, at the end of this year, Knocked Up were to win a few critics' awards for best film.

But right now, for Judd Apatow's slacker romantic comedy, it's beginning to smell a lot like Zeitgeist. (Which in this case has underodors of bong smoke and turd jokes.) Maureen Dowd, the New York Times' ageless arbiter of sexual politics, weighed in with a column on the movie. So did just about everyone who writes for The Huffington Post. Yesterday I received a promotion for a 1982 Eastern European art film that the publicist ID'd as "'Knocked Up,' Polish style." And there's the lawsuit from the author of a humorous memoir called Knocked Up: Confessions of a Hip Mother-to-Be. Rebecca Eckler, whom Booklist describes as "Canada's answer to Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell," claims suspicious similarities between the movie and her book, which was submitted to several Hollywood producers after its publication two years ago. Apatow denies the charges.

But the buzz is resonating beyond official circles. In the last few days my friends and I have heard people talking about the film in restaurants and museums, at parties and on the subway. This is not just the kind of movie that will get people seeing it to catch up with the tastemaker crowd; it's the uncommoner kind that will lure people who, given what they've heard, are expecting to hate it. They'll see it so they can join the debate, if only to say It wasn't that good.

Here's where I have to say: It isn't that good. Not quite "an instant classic, a comedy that captures the sexual confusion and moral ambivalence of our moment without straining, pandering or preaching," as the Times' Tony Scott opined (in, I have to add, a brilliantly written review). Nor can I agree with the declaration of my friend Richard Schickel, here on, that "Apatow, represents, for the moment at least, the best in American movie comedy ... a throwback to the kind of screenwriters who created the classic romantic comedies of the 1930s."

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