Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: Knocked Up (2007)
I’m cursing this round of The Birthday Series, as it seems to be very comedy heavy. Well, I say comedy, but Apatow’s Knocked Up (release date 24th August in the UK) will be the third film on the bounce to fail to make me actually laugh. I thought this was fairly integral for comedies, you know, in fact I’d almost argue that some level of “comedy” would be actually essential. However, Comedy in the 21st Century is clearly a euphemism for “light drama” judging by the sheer number of unfunny efforts out there. To make matters worse, this is a Judd Apatow film, a man who deals with purely annoying pathetic men children, harpies, stoners etc without injecting a single ounce of what could be generously called comedy into any of them.
Contains fat stoners, pan-faced dogs, and mild spoilers but a singular lack of comedy below.
Seth Rogen plays Ben. Ben is a stoner 20 something washout without even the brains to realise that websites chronicling celebrity nudity might be quite popular in that lovable toilet we call the internet. He happens to be on a night out at the same time as E! Journalist Alison (Katherine Heigl) and her awful sister Debbie (Leslie Mann). Unbelievably, because I can’t give credit to any film that tries to pretend that any man would drop standards to sleep with Heigl, Alison and Ben hook up. Due to a misunderstanding over contraception, they do the nasty without any protection at all, and Alison is horrified to discover that she’s up the duff. Ben and Alison decide to give it a go, and the film chronicles their deteriorating relationship as it runs in tandem with the collapse of Debbie and her husband Pete’s marriage (Paul Rudd). Eventually, matters come to a head (having endured loads of Heigl’s nagging and Rogen’s boorishness) and Debbie starts stalking Pete in the belief he’s having an affair. He isn’t, actually, but you couldn’t blame him if he was, because what he’s really up to is too depressing for words. All his clandestine activity is because he’s part of a fantasy baseball league, and he needs a bit of time away from the harpy. This is the catalyst for breaking up both couples, and so to celebrate their freedom the two men go and do a load of mushrooms in Vegas. Which then, sigh, prompts a revelation that they would be better with their women (fuck knows why they think this as the film has gone out of its way to really paint the two women as fucking awful). Ben gets his life in order, and the couples all end up back together again.
This film is terrible. There are so many problems that I’m not sure where to begin. Firstly, it’s just not funny. I, honestly, can’t think of a single good joke in the entire script. I suppose we’re meant to laugh at Ben’s crass and obnoxious antics, but I just didn’t find him amusing in the slightest, and the gag about the Mr. Skin style website almost made me want to punch the TV. He’s basically a pathetic fat man-child, and I’m quite unsure about why we’re meant to find any humour in his predicament. Rogen sleepwalks through the role, because it isn’t much of a leap for him to play this type, and to be honest, it’s barely a character. In contrast, Heigl’s Allison is meant to be all professional and ambitious, so I suspect that we’re meant to sympathise with her for having to put up with this dimwit. Except the film doesn’t work like that, because she comes across as an appalling nagging shrew. There’s one scene in particular where she goes on and on at him for not reading fucking baby books that honestly had me wondering if he murdered her and cut her body into pieces he couldn’t claim a combination of provocation or justifiable homicide.
However, she’s the very embodiment of sympathy compared to Debbie. My fucking christ, I haven’t hated a character as much as this charmless, shrill, obnoxious fucking cunt in a long time. The character is appallingly written to begin with, and Mann’s performance borders on the obnoxious. Pete, on the other hand, comes across as a class-A henpecked dimwit. Rudd is a likeable screen presence, but he’s swimming against the tide here, and his post-shroom revelation that he’d be better off with her rings totally hollow, because she’s spent the entire fucking movie nagging the poor bastard into the ground. Honestly, he has to hide his fucking fantasy baseball games from her, because she’ll just ruin it for him, and that’ s got to be the most pathetic sentence that I think I’ve ever written.
I’ve briefly touched on it above, but I’m sure that we’re meant to sympathise with Allison for being up the spout and lumbered with the dimwitted stoner. However, the film endlessly portrays her as such an embittered cow that I found myself rooting, much against my better instincts, for the fat cretin. I honestly spent the second half of Knocked Up just wishing he’d tell her to go and fuck herself. That it then tries to shoe-horn these obviously unmatched pairs together at the end is an affront to the intelligence, and a far more honest movie would have him making support payments etc to the bitter old witch.
The failure here comes thick and fast, whether it’s watching Ben be a fuckhead at dinner, or Rudd trying different chairs in Vegas, there’s not a single moment of the film that could be deemed to be a success. Bar one, and that’s the scene where Debbie and Allison are turned away from a club for being too old and up the spout respectively. Debbie then proceeds to screech at the bouncer, underlining what a massive cunt she is, while Allison starts to wonder if this is the right woman to be taking advice from. While the scene isn’t funny, there’s an honesty to it, and the expression Heigl wears is perfect, you can honestly see the wheels turning in the character’s brain, and about time too.
I hated this move, but I have to concede that it, again, isn’t an Orangutan of Doom effort. It’s not funny, and the characters, particularly the women, are dreadful, but it is polished and fairly slick. Apatow allows the film to whip along, possibly because he knows that the material can’t support analysis, yet somehow the film manages to come in at over 2 hours long. I suspect that if this were trimmed of a lot of the extraneous scenes (half of which invariably involve Debbie being dreadful) and came in at a brisk 80 minutes or so then it would be vastly improved. No amount of pacy direction can make up for a bloated, unfunny and obnoxious mess.
I’m just going to touch on something that was raised in another thread- another problem with Knocked Up is that in a perverse way it’s one of the most revolting examples of juvenile wish fulfilment that is out there. Despite my snarky remarks about Heigl, there’s no doubting that she is significantly better looking than Rogen, so it stretches credibility a touch to believe that she would bump uglies with him. While the film then goes out of its way to make her into a nagging shrew, and thus remove our sympathy for her, it’s pretty clear that he deserves no respect whatsoever. Furthermore, at the end of the day he ends up in a brilliant job, with his own place and a girlfriend/ fiancée miles out of his league. What is insulting to the intelligence is that he’s managed all of this while still remaining basically the same- his character hasn’t developed. It’s a con, a juvenile and infuriating pass on the viewer that I can’t really get over, and I’m not sure what Apatow is trying to get at here.
Overall, I don’t recommend this. It’s shite, actually, and annoyingly painful shite at that. I suppose Knocked Up is a romantic comedy of sorts, except it’s got the sense of romance of a piss-stained wino and the comic touch of a pet funeral. Nevertheless, while hateful and annoying garbage, there’s far worse to come in this series, and it really isn’t any worse than Post Grad. As such, I’m going to give Knocked Up 1 Baby Herman out of a possible 4, and hopefully I’ll get a bit of a break from comedies that just aren’t funny.
Next up is the second Almodovar in the list, and this is one of his best films. It’s also got the added bonus of him making Penelope Cruz wear a prosthetic ass to teach her a lesson in humility.
The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:
- 2011- The Skin I Live In (2.5 out of 4)
- 2010- The Last Exorcism (2.5 out of 4)
- 2009- Post Grad (1 out of 4)
- 2008- The House Bunny (1 out of 4)
- 2007- Knocked Up (1 out of 4)
- 2006- Volver
- 2005- Red Eye
- 2004- Dead Clowns
- 2003- Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
- 2002- Talk to Her
- 2001- Jeeper’s Creepers
- 2000- Gossip
- 1999- All About My Mother
- 1998- The X-Files
- 1997- Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion
- 1996- The Last Supper
- 1995- The Usual Suspects
- 1994- The Color of Night
- 1993- Surf Ninjas
- 1992- The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag
- 1991- Pump Up the Volume
- 1990- Wild at Heart
- 1989- Bull Durham
- 1988- Crossing Delancey
- 1987- The Big Easy
- 1986- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
- 1985- Better off Dead
- 1984- Oxford Blues
- 1983- MetalStorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn
- 1982- The Thing
- 1981- Honky Tonk Freeway
- 1980- Schock
- 1979- Rich Kids
- 1978- Coma