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.

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Take the Heigl character, Alison. In her mid-20s, she is smart, pretty and nice. She has a good job, that's getting better, at the E! Channel. And where does this independent achiever live? Why, in the home of her married sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), with Debbie's husband Pete (Paul Rudd) and their two kids. Apatow imagines that, in Los Angeles 2007, there's some time-warp housing-shortage like the one in World War II-era Washington, D.C. — the premise for the 1943 comedy The More the Merrier.

As for Rogen's Ben Stone, he lives with a bunch of dopers so louche they make him seem almost normal. Yes, Ben's friends are descendants of Cheech & Chong and Bill & Ted; but they go back even further, to the all-male enclave inhabited by Gary Cooper and his professorial pals in the 1941 Ball of Fire. Both groups were involved in compiling a reference work: an encyclopedia from the Ball of Fire scholars and, from Ben's housemates, a scheme for a website that will itemize the nude scenes of movie actresses. This is an idea so perfect for the Internet that it actually precedes it: Craig Hosoda published his first edition of The Bare Facts Video Guide in the late 80s. The notion was later adapted for the Internet as the Mr. Skin site. Would the Ben-guys not have known of such a site? Are they pretending they have a project so they can watch movies of naked ladies? The answer, again: Because it's a movie.

To celebrate a promotion at E!, Alison takes Debbie to a club; she meets Ben, they get drunk, have sex. etc. Eight weeks later, she suspects she's pregnant. Hmmm: at just the moment when she's been promoted to being an on-air reporter, she gets knocked up by a loser she barely knows and, when sober, can't stand. Some women would terminate the pregnancy. Alison doesn't, because ... because then there would be no movie — at least, not the kind Apatow wants to make. (Suggestion for an edgier romantic comedy. Two unsuited people get together, girl gets pregnant, has abortion, then decides she likes the guy, and they set about raising a family of kids they really want.)

Having chosen to bring the baby to term, Alison now has to figure out whether she brings Ben into the equation. In such a dilemma, whom can she confide in? You might expect that such a personable sort would have a circle of women friends — what Apatow would call her pussy posse — but not Alison. All right, no girlfriends. But she's got an infotainment job in L.A.; the place must be swarming with gay men, ready to offer their sympathy or tart wisdom. In show business, isn't there a Will for every Grace? No again; Alison is effectively friendless. In the old movies, the heroine was often isolated by convention or prejudice. Here, Apatow strands Alison is in order to make the unthinkable Ben an attractive, indeed the only, choice.

Alison's one sounding board is Debbie, who has issues of her own. In a word, she's a bitch. Ben's friends might diagnose Debbie's condition as a severe case of PMS, and they wouldn't be far off, if the P is for Perpetual. She hardly tries to conceal her hatred of men, and her husband in particular: "I get worse-looking and he gets better-looking. It's so unfair." Her theory of getting men to do a woman's bidding — "You criticize them a lot, and then they get so down on themselves that they change" — sounds like extreme rendition. At one point she freaks out in exasperation at Pete: "I wanna rip your f---ing head off because you're so f---ing stupid!" Yet Debbie is the person who's meant to represent all domestic options for Alison, beyond sticking with Ben.

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