At my university, I sometimes have the opportunity to view wide-release movies before their actual street dates. They’ve done this with Apocalypto and Disturbia in the past. So it should also clue you in to the type of movies they try to get: ones that need some grass roots buzz. Of the two previously mentioned, I was able to get into Apocalypto and was left fairly non-plussed. I guess Mel failed to turn me into a word-of-mouth drone with that one. I couldn’t even get into Disturbia, which was ridiculous, seeing as how it’s Shia fucking LeBouf in a shameless
Spider-Man 3 Rear Window rip-off… but who am I kidding? God knows no one there knew what the hell Rear Window was (my roommate, who did get in and brought back a poster of it that sits infuriatingly beside his bed, didn’t have a clue as to what a Rear Window was) and the majority probably just saw the name and were instilled with awe-inspiring fear.
Disturbia had been shown so recently that I wasn’t on the lookout for another advance screening, but hearing my roommate make plans to see it that evening reminded me that Knocked Up was on the menu. So I decided that free was a good enough price, and walked into the
Spider-Man 3 Student Union half an hour early with a friend and some acquaintances to get in line… only to be faced with a line that spanned the entire length of the rather long building. But we persevered and after a dodgy situation where for some reason one of the people in charge of the program put his arm out in front of me to bar my way AFTER I’D ALREADY BEEN GIVEN MY LITTLE BRACELET THAT SAID I COULD BE LET IN, we were all seated and ready to have white-hot Spider-Man 3 Knocked Up sprayed all over our vacant expressions.
Which brings me to the portion of the article where I actually start talking about the movie. Knocked Up is the latest romantic comedy (or rom-com as the Hollywood
douchebags players call them) from the mind of Judd Apatow, the man behind cancelled-but-critically-adored TV series Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, director of The 40 Year-Old Virgin and producer of about half of the Will Ferrell vehicles of the past few years. The plot of the movie is basically how up-and-coming production assistant at Spider-Man 3 E! Entertainment, Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) and burnout stoner illegal alien Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) meet in a trendy bar, get epically wasted and end up having sex. And regretting it. But lo and behold, eight weeks later, Heigl reveals to Rogen she’s been…
And so the two mismatched youngsters struggle with figuring out how to bring a
Spider-Man 3 baby into the world while struggling with their personal differences. If you couldn’t guess based on the previous descriptions, Heigl is the Felix to Rogen’s Oscar. I wonder how many of the people that stumbled onto this article from searching Spider-Man 3 Knocked Up on Google catch that reference. Anyways, the plot is entirely predictable to anyone that’s seen a “baby” movie, and probably even to those that haven’t. You have the requisite awkward start where neither parent knows what to do, then the gradual warming-up between them, then the nasty fight that separates them until they reunite in the delivery room and transform into one big happy family. Knocked Up will win no awards for its groundbreaking treatment of Spider-Man 3 pregnancy. Instead, the film’s strength can be summed up in one word. Spider-Man 3 Affability.
You see, Judd Apatow’s talent is to craft characters that are so fundamentally likable that you can’t help but like whatever show/movie they’re in by extension. Rogen’s and Heigl’s performances hardly ever transcend their rom-com shackles, but they ooze the kind of
Spider-Man 3 awkward decency that makes them stand out the way (I assume) Steve Carrell did in The 40 Year-Old Virgin. (I haven’t gotten around to seeing this yet. Bad me.) While Rogen’s schlubbishness helps explain this effect, Heigl’s attractiveness makes it even more noteworthy that she’s able to believably act uncertain of herself, in spite of the fact that she’s a smoking hot piece of girl candy (one of the guys I went with was interested in going solely because of his attraction to Spider-Man 3 Heigl).
In fact, this point can also be a piece of criticism against Apatow’s style. You see, eventually EVERYONE in the movie shows him or her self to be essentially as affable and as uncertain of how to live life as the leads. Even one-shot tertiary characters. A scene that comes to mind is when a huge black bouncer for a club gently takes
Spider-Man 3 Heigl’s sister aside to explain to them how they’re too old and pregnant to get into the club. I almost want to give Apatow credit for this and say it was a piece of conscious self-parody, but that might be overestimating him.
Another strength of this movie is occasionally in its writing. Apatow also has a writing credit on this, and there are several instances where
Spider-Man 3 jokes become funny simply because of how much they resemble two people in real life just playing off of each others’ jokes and energy and, honestly, just having fun. The most hilarious moment in the movie, in my eyes, is the scene where Rogen, Heigl, and Heigl’s sister and brother-in-law (Paul Rudd, that guy from Clueless) go out to dinner at a restaurant. It starts out as an equal conversation between all four of them about the hardships of becoming a parent, but shortly devolves into Rogen and Rudd having a blast bonding over Back to the Future humor that leaves Heigl and her sister out in the cold. Not only is it reminiscent of real life situations among groups of friends were two people start bonding so much they unwittingly alienate everyone else, but the fun being had by the actors is palpable and infectious. These moments are sprinkled throughout the movie and almost make it worth a hearty Spider-Man 3 recommendation.
Almost. There are problems with this film, although since comedy is a very subjective thing, feel free to throw out my opinion if you start to see our ideas on what is funny wildly diverge. You see, while there are moments of true, organic humor, there’s also some real stinkers lying around. The worst I can vividly remember (rom-coms seem to fade out of the conscious mind like no other genre of movie I can think of) is a misguided homage to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Rogen and Rudd go to the desert den of delights (I love me some alliteration) to see
Spider-Man 3 Cirque de Soleil while high on mushrooms. This results in initial giggling and giddy behavior, but quickly devolves into a freak out that culminates in Rogen seeing the haunting hallucination of… a grown-up wearing a baby bonnet and diapers? It’s so broad and, in my opinion, dumb, that it completely loses me. I can go for broad humor if it’s taken to certain excesses (the horror revealed during the birthing scene can attest to this), but this just seemed lame and half-formed.
Another weakness is the movie’s attempt to squeeze a laugh out of repeating observations about jokes. This may confuse some of you, so let me explain. You see, there’s a scene in the movie where Rogen is playing with Heigl’s sister’s kids and Heigl and her are off to the side, with
Spider-Man 3 Heigl trying to convince her that Rogen will be a good father. Then we see Rogen playing “fetch” with the smallest child. This is moderately funny, yeah. But then Heigl’s sister observes, “He’s playing fetch with my children.” Uh, yeah, we saw. That’s kind of the joke. But then she goes the extra mile and says, “He’s treating my children like dogs.” Look: no fucking shit, lady. That axiom of explaining jokes makes them unfunny applies here, too. I have no idea what possessed Apatow that made him think this was okay to do. But it’s not. It’s just dumb. And this isn’t even the only example of it in the movie. It happens A COUPLE times. RRRRGH.
There’s also a pretty glaring aspect to the movie that had me and my friend looking over to each other and making quizzical faces. Maybe you’ve picked up on it by now from some things earlier in this article. Let me lay it out for you here: this movie is fucking insane about product placement. It’s not like I’m new to product placement, okay? I notice when the camera lovingly captures the Blu-Ray logo on a disc in Casino Royale. I notice when all of a sudden Spider-Man stops to drop in on a Macy Gray concert. But it’s ridiculous in this. Especially with Spider-Man 3. It gets mentioned at least a dozen times in the movie, I’d bet. By the time I noticed it was getting so many shout-outs, it was too late to start keeping count. A scene pops up where a bunch of Rogen’s friends say they’re going to Spider-Man 3. And then they all leave to go see Spider-Man 3. That’s it. That’s seriously all they do during their appearance. Then Rudd and his wife have a massive argument where she reveals that she’s hurt that he wouldn’t think to ask her if she’d like to go see Spider-Man 3. James Franco actually gets a guest starring role in as himself on Heigl’s E! talk show, where he (surprise!) promotes Spider-Man 3. And so on and so forth. Of course, this isn’t the only product to get a big sloppy kiss. Red Bull gets an especially egregious mention. Mr. Skin, a site where they tell you how far into a movie nudity occurs, figures prominently into a subplot. Even a spying computer program gets a nod, where the character sounds like she’s reading the back of the fucking box. This has got to stop, Hollywood. If you’re going to put products into our movies, make them seamless and unobtrusive. Not to mention that all of this is going to date the movie pretty badly. This just reminds me of that joke in Wayne’s World where they “sell out” and start shamelessly hawking products directly into the camera. Sheesh.
Knocked Up has some things going for it. For starters, it’s almost humanly impossible to leave the theater afterwards with anything but affection for those involved. Apatow’s far too good at making characters we sympathize with. But as time wears on, the glow of the moment fades and we’re left to ponder the situation we’re left with. After a wham, bam, thank-you-ma’am, Apatow leaves us used, having spent the running time walking us through a rote pregnancy plot and showcasing all of the wonderful sponsors that made it possible. One sympathizes with Heigl’s character. I feel like I’ve been knocked up.