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.

(5 of 5)

His previous film as writer-director, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, was supposed to be about how a nice fellow who'd never managed to have sex triumphs over the prodding and baiting of his jerky friends (including Rogen and Rudd) and finds a compatible mate. But The Girl (Catherine Keener) was hardly a character at all; her only function was to unleash a hearty laugh whenever Carell passed a joke. Alison, granted, is more prominent and complicated here. But for all the lip service Apatow pays to the guy-gal plot of Knocked Up, he invests much more energy and affection in the scenes of Ben with his friends and, emphatically, with Pete — who is the one person in the movie Ben really falls for. It's another old plot: beauty and the beast.

Unlike some of this movie's skeptics, I don't mind Rogen. He has sweet eyes, a voice too deep and rich for his age and, in his one nude scene (Heigl doesn't get one, as Mr. Skin will tell you, except for a gynecological closeup late in the film) a cute tush. But by Hollywood beauty standards, he's so on the lower side of ordinary, he almost doesn't belong in movies. That's one good thing about Apatow: he subverts the medium's inherent aesthetic fascism — survival of the cutest — and puts funny people center-screen. His mission to devolve the notion of the leading man continues in this fall's Rogen-Apatow comedy Superbad, which will star Jonah Hill, next to whom Rogen is Redford. Meanwhile, the very presentable Rudd, whom Apatow keeps casting as the hero's best friend, has yet to get a lead role. It's like Bizarro-World Goes to Hollywood.

But Rudd in Knocked Up is Ben's humane, hunky alternative to his lower-life-form friends, and a closer soulmate than Alison. He can't have sex with Pete, but Alison can't make him laugh so hard — which is what matters in a guy-centric comedy. Ben is tolerant of Alison's weaknesses but attracted to Ben's strengths. He's not the Other, which guys like Ben think of women; he's the better, cooler Ben. At the film's climax, the two go off to Vegas, again not to have sex but to do some "shrooms" and make each other giggle. Ben and Alison are the odd couple, but in Ben and Pete the movie has found its ideal couple.

Ending the story there would make Knocked Up not only consistent with the male-male romances that stock so many Hollywood movies (check my reviews of 300, Blades of Glory and Spider-Man 3 for extensive notes on this trend) but a more honest parable. Instead, in the middle of their stoned bliss, the guys decide to go back home: Pete to his loveless marriage, Ben to the foxy lady who somehow wants him to be the father of their child. Comic birth scene and declarations of love ensue.

Why does this happen? For the last time, because it's a movie. And not a very good one.

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