Not Knocked Out by 'Knocked Up'

  • Share
  • Read Later
Suzanne Hanover / Universal

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

(4 of 5)

I know. Debbie has to be a shrew, and her marriage with Pete a sad charade, to give Alison one more hurdle to jump: that she'll wonder if living with anyone, let alone Ben, is doomed to failure. But here's a little tip to budding screenwriters. If your refutation to questions of plot irregularity is "Because it's a movie!" — and especially if that card has to be played more than a few times (no friends, no abortion, supporting characters who are caricatures, a website subplot that collapses on closer inspection) — then maybe your script has plausibility problems.

As much as Knocked Up hates Debbie (who's played by Apatow's real-life wife!), that's how much it loves her husband Pete — the film's idea of Married Man. Pete is cute and funny, he loves his bratty kids so much he gets soupy-poetic over watching them blow bubbles. He does (in maybe my favorite moment in the film) a devastating DeNiro impression. Most heroically, he tolerates his numbing marriage to super-bitch Debbie. "Marriage," he tells Ben, "is like that show Everybody Loves Raymond. Except it's not funny."

Not that Pete can stand being with her and the kids all the time. He gives bogus excuses and sneaks out at night, not to have an affair, as his wife suspects, but to take part in a fantasy baseball draft — which outrages her more. You're cheating on me to get freaking companionship? she asks. Am I not enough? The movie's answer: No, you are not; no one person is. Nobody can be everything to anybody.


That sounds fairly mature. And in fact it's more mature than the movie, which, whatever its ostensible message of love between two improbable strangers, is a celebration of male camaraderie, and how guys need to do their guy stuff. That too is a theme with an honorable movie history: in the snappy bravado of heroes in Howard Hawks westerns, the desperate friendship in war-movie foxholes, the sass and sarcasm exchanged by slobby Oscar and his poker pals in The Odd Couple. It exists in real life, too, of course, in less appealing ways than Knocked Up lets on. The old cliché, of construction workers giving out with the wolf whistle at women walking by their site, has become the new one, of slackers avidly calibrating the activities of movie actresses in the nude.

In Knocked Up, the camaraderie is mainly comic. Guys topping guys — men amusing themselves and one another by competing in a kind of verbal bowling tournament — is as old as the Friars Club, as familiar as The Man Show (actually a favorite of mine, in its early Comedy Central years), as intense and obscene as The Aristocrats. It's also the ribald companionship of the sitcom writing room, a basically male preserve where the scribes often engage in sexually explicit jokes about the show's cast, as an assistant copies it all down. (In 1999 one such assistant, Amaani Lyle of the Friends staff, brought a sexual discrimination suit against the writers for burning her ears with their X-rated gags.) Apatow is a veteran of these rooms, from his own shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, and some of that rowdy zazz gets into his movies.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5