Knocked Up barely meets the “romance” quota that qualifies it as a romantic comedy but fear not fellas—it’s mostly comedy and of the highest grade. The movie centers around two twentysomethings who couldn’t be more different: gorgeous careful career-minded Alison (Katherine Heigl) and beastly reckless foggy-minded Ben (Seth Rogen). After a promotion at her job working for the E! network Alison decides to cut loose for one night and celebrate. She and her sister (Leslie Mann) go out to a local club where they meet Ben and his stoner friends (Jason Segel Jay Baruchel Jonah Hill and Martin Starr). One drink leads to another and before long Alison is drunk enough to take Ben home and into bed. Eight weeks later Alison is singing the morning-sickness blues and sure enough pregnancy test after pregnancy test confirms her worst fear: bun in the oven...from a one-night stand...with a guy who repulsed her when she saw him through sober eyes. So she decides to tell manchild Ben that he knocked her up and it changes everything—well sorta. Meet Seth Rogen this year’s Steve Carell Award winner for Breakout Star and Best Unknown Lead. Of course neither Carell nor Rogen was truly unknown before his respective breakout—Rogen it could be argued really broke out in last year’s 40-Year-Old Virgin alongside Carell—but the Everyman appeal and unlikely ascension to stardom between the two are similar. As with Virgin Rogen is hilarious primarily with the delivery of the absurdity he spews. And not only does Rogen display a surprising soft-ish side when necessary he projects something so relatable that you’ll swear you’ve had a Ben in your circle of friends at one point. The glue of the onscreen relationship and chemistry is Heigl. The Grey’s Anatomy star shows that she’s much more than a pretty face convincingly going hormonal as hell while improving upon the comedic chops she hinted at in the god-awful The Ringer. Mann writer/director Judd Apatow’s real-life wife and the only other source of estrogen in the movie is very much game for the pot(ty mouth) humor but it’s Paul Rudd as Mann’s cynical husband who seems to be Apatow’s comedic muse. Already a member of the Frat Pack it’s only a matter of time before Judd makes Rudd his lead. Judd Apatow has been working for much longer than most people care to realize but he finally made a splash (read: box office hit) with last year’s Virgin and Knocked Up solidifies him as the one to beat when it comes to comedy. Apatow combines certain elements that make his style reign supreme. First and foremost is a distinct note of improvisation that makes his actors—many of whom he repeatedly employs—feel at home and thus his audiences do as well. Then there’s his affection for the underdog which is no doubt how he sees or once saw himself. It not only endears him to his ever-growing fan base it’s a theme that grows on you throughout the course of his movies (namely his last two) convincing you that sometimes the good guy CAN get the girl. Knocked Up builds on both themes: The actors seem like they sat around with Apatow took one toke too many and started riffing on each other and pop culture; and Rogen is certainly Apatow’s underdog a nod to underdog dreamers everywhere and to comedy by implying “Would it be funny if the movie was George Clooney trying to woo Katherine Heigl?” He caps it off in mature real-world fashion to mimic his protagonist’s arc by throwing in some sentimentality. It's effective and seems credible which sums up all of Apatow's work.
Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) a bleeding heart poet and staunch environmentalist is convinced a series of unexplained coincidences involving a tall African doorman somehow mean something leading him to married metaphysicians Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin)--otherwise known as the Existential Detectives. Instead of looking for other people this pair tirelessly investigates the mysteries of their clients' secret innermost lives--their "Beings " so to speak--to help them answer their questions. Immediately digging in Bernard and Vivian find out that Albert has a deep-seated hatred for Brad Stand (Jude Law) a golden-boy sales executive at the popular retail superstore chain Huckabees who at first sponsors Albert's Open Spaces Coalition to save a nearby marsh from commercial construction but who ends up taking over the coalition. The Existential Detectives believe Brad may be the key to cracking Albert's case but get sidetracked when Brad hires them for himself--leading them to explore Brad's ambitions hang-ups and his superficial relationship with Huckabees' hot blonde spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts). Meanwhile Albert becomes disenfranchised with Bernard and Vivian and pairs up with another of the duo's clients--firefighter tough guy and uncompromising soul searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg). Together they join forces with the Jaffes' arch nemesis sexy French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) whose life teachings revolve around "cruelty manipulation and meaninglessness." Now as Being intermixes with Nothingness Albert Tommy Brad Dawn Bernard Vivian and Caterine get all tangled up in one another as their wild romp through life's biggest questions brings them to some startling truths. Whew!
With such a clever script to back them up it isn't hard to see why the Huckabees wannabes turn in some cracking good performances. Schwartzman once again plays a nebbish sullen but lovable geek (similar to his side-splitting turn in Rushmore) bringing out the film's heart and soul especially with his environmental poetry ("You ROCK rock!"). Veterans Hoffman and Tomlin who are dead-on as the happily married Existential Detectives and Huppert as the deadpan French philosopher complement the proceedings beautifully. For the first time in a long time Hoffman doesn't overplay his part instead letting his quiet inner "Being" out taking his character's philosophies to heart ("Everything you ever desired or wanted to be you already have and are"). But who knew more serious actors--Mark Wahlberg Jude Law and Naomi Watts--could be so excruciatingly funny? Wahlberg's freethinking obstinate firefighter would rather ride a bike to a fire than get into a gas-guzzling fire truck while Watts' Dawn decides she doesn't need to be pretty and is fearless with overalls a bonnet and Oreo cookies stuck in her teeth. As the straight man Law actually has the most difficult part playing the handsome cad who thinks he doesn't believe in all that existential bullcrap but ever so slightly gets slammed with the reality of it anyway.
Writer/director David O. Russell is one fascinating guy. With a body of work including the really weird and wild Spanking the Monkey the hilarious slapsticky Flirting With Disaster and the intense Three Kings it's obvious he is capable of handling a wide variety of subjects. With Huckabees Russell gets into some serious deep thinking. He says he became "intrigued with the idea of a detective following someone around not for any criminal or personal intrigue but rather as part of a very serious investigation about existence itself " drawing concepts from several different strains of existentialism--from the non-dual interconnectedness theories of Eastern philosophy (Bernard and Vivian's take) to the Sartrean notions of a more meaningless universe that demands a profound individualism (Caterine's point of view). Huh? Don't worry your pretty little heads about it too much. Russell's bone-crushing sense of humor comes shining through--as does his unique vision as the camera is used in new and different ways (especially creative when Albert is trying to find his "Being")--to piece together a wondrous coherent albeit thought-provoking little gem. Oscar gold awaits.
Wall Street stud-boy Brad (Brian Van Holt) wannabe lady-killer Zeke (Zorie Barber) and sensitive wank-addict Jonathan (Jonathan Abrahams) talk big trash about "scamming" female conquests. Then they meet their match when each independently gets involved with fantasy love interest Mia (Amanda Peet) in the span of a single week. Ignoring the wild improbability of this actually happening the fellas blunder into an unwieldy four-way romance that puts severe strains on their friendship -- not to mention the film's believability.
Charismatic newcomers Van Holt Barber and Abrahams get into the spirit of the piece gamely soldiering through an uneven stream of bathroom and penis jokes and other indignities in various stages of undress. Judah Domke ("Spanking the Monkey") scores some of the funniest moments as a long-suffering married pal who now gets his jollies following the other guys' bedroom exploits. Toothy rising star Peet (TV's "Jack & Jill") has less success with the blandly written role of Mia providing no clue as to what the boys are so excited about.
Writer-director-producer Peter M. Cohen's energetic debut feature builds up a promising head of steam early on only to have things fall apart once the painfully predictable direction of the plot becomes clear. The guys' "Diner"-style yammering (much of it yes in a diner!) is hit-or-miss lacking the wit of "Swingers" or the ribald comic invention of "American Pie." With the exception of some truly inspired bits featuring Domke's character the likable leads have to work for every naughty inch.