Judd ApatowÂs Knocked Up is an odd little duck of a movie; the sort of raunchy, dimwitted escapism that can bathe deeply in endless pot smoking, profanity, and hedonism, yet swing around and embrace a pro-life message that would have James Dobson wiping away tears. In a sense, itÂs a film that steadfastly wants it all — and has it — by grabbing the guys by their balls with hot chicks, lap dancing, stoner humor, and juvenile pranks, while not pitching so low that the ladies wonÂt be cooing, smiling, and squeezing their loved ones with a bit more tenderness than usual. And while it is a decent movie — funny is spurts, but hardly the laugh riot early reviews have promised — it is also wholly objectionable in a way that only someone deeply immersed in their misanthropic fanaticism could appreciate. In other words, someone like me. After all, for me to oppose the movieÂs undeniable message of family values and pro-child urging is deeply unfair and exactly the sort of thing that should be avoided by anyone who believes that films should be accepted on their own terms, not for what we wish themÂ to be. For if my disgust is based not on technique, ability, or cinematic craft, then I am blasting a movieÂs point of view — its very opinion of life and love — which makes me no better than the Michael Medveds of the world, whose stingy endorsementsÂ are reserved only for the like-minded and agreeable. I donÂt believe myself to be as rigid, of course (after all, the conservative — and cheerfully jingoistic — Patton is among my all-time favorites), but on the whole, it holds true: I am more apt to love a film that confirms what I already believe, and just as likely to hate it if those same beliefs are contradicted. ItÂs not ideal, but at least itÂs honest.
Before discussing its painfully optimistic attitude about the wee ones, a major (though expected) weakness of the movie is that, yet again, it presents adulthood as a recognition of oneÂs responsibilities to hearth and home, as if childhood ends the day one accepts the need to have children of oneÂs own. As such, it endorses the dubious idea that life is an utter waste of time up to the very moment that one conforms to the picket fence ideal. Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) is the hero of the piece, but itÂs a misleading label, as he is presented as a cool guy — fun-loving, silly, relaxed, and hilarious — only as a means of finding his opposite in the bowels of maturity. Ben is a bum — lazy, unmotivated, and incapable of delayed gratification — but heÂs refreshingly himself. He doesnÂt give a shit, but he doesnÂt throw any around either, as heÂs one of the least judgmental people youÂd ever meet. You do your thing, heÂll do his, and as such, heÂs the ultimate neighbor and friend. He lacks ambition (his ÂfutureÂ is based solely on a possible website that would catalogue all the nudity found on feature films for his customers to download), but who the hell really cares? He lives with a group of friends who piss away their days in a haze, but knowing what comes next, I found myself rooting for them. There are so few ways to win in this world, and at this time, their drug-fueled apathy seems revolutionary, as if by rejecting employment and domesticity, they are preserving a slice of their own private Eden. ItÂs a fantasy, but defiantly hopeful.
So while even Ben would grow tiresome (do you ever utter a single thing that isn’t a pop culture reference?), I grew more furious as each minute passed, as it was part of the movieÂs agenda to run him through the gauntlet and demand that he emerge with a snuggly strapped to his chest. IÂm no fan of layabouts (especially those who always seem to have someone else paying their bills), but I hate emasculated fathers more, and every time the siren song of paternity called, I kept hoping heÂd grab his bong and run to the hills. But no, BenÂs lifeÂ must change foreverÂ after a single night of passion with Alison (Katherine Heigl), a booze-soaked evening that ends with her unexpected pregnancy. Now forced to call Ben after several weeks of silence (the Âmorning afterÂ breakfast with Ben proved to Alison how much of a mistake the sex had been, or so she thought), she looks to him not forÂ the few hundred bucks for an abortion, but a possible mate. At the very least, an attentive father for this child-to-be. And hereÂs where things turn from the mildly amusing to the appalling: Alison, having just received a promotion at the E! Network, is on the verge of a career breakthrough. SheÂs on the move and going places, and life appears to be hitting that long-delayed sweet spot. Instead, she decides to carry the little bugger to term, pausing nary a second to consider an alternative. Here, though, is the kicker: The screenplay canÂt even push itself to say the word Âabortion,Â as if its utterance would alienate audiences who werenÂt aware it was still available in these United States. Reduced to the euphemism Âtaking care of it,Â or a silly rhyme by one of BenÂs roommates, abortion is so evil and unthinkable that it canÂt even be granted a toehold. Women have their babies, even if the product of a one night stand, and thatÂs that. IÂm not sure the Catholic Church could have written it with more obscene clarity.
Comedy or not, benign intent or grand conspiracy, I could not get past such a firewall of deception. Of course I wanted the fetus to beÂ sucked away like a cobweb in the attic, but even after accepting that a movie could not take placeÂ with such a turn of events, was it still necessary to oversimplify this womanÂs state of mind? She makes her inflexible decision seemingly off-screen, and we canÂt understand why sheÂd do so when everything pointed to the opposite conclusion. Characters need not conform to my sense of morality, but they do need to make some degree of sense, and nothing Alison did for the filmÂs first actÂ would leadÂ anyone to believe that she would knowingly give birth to anythingÂ sharingÂ genesÂ with such a two-bit schlub of a man as Ben. She was no sage to begin with, but did the onset of pregnancy render her completely retarded? And wouldnÂt she have more than a hurriedÂ lunch with her mother when making the biggest decision of her life? Fine, you caught me: there isnÂt a single scene that would have saved it. I cannot understand why anyone with even a mere shard of light left in their life would choose to have a child and shut that door forever, but IÂm still compelled to ask if our movie characters might act a little more reasonably than to believe they can transform a nitwit into a family man. I sense that good dads always had such urges in them, and few (if any) with no interest in the matter suddenly adopt such loving attitudes. ItÂs the widespread lack of believability, then, that I canÂt stand.
The film is not without its genuine insights, however, especially in terms of marriage. The relationship of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), for example, is almost absurdly real in its depiction of the soul-sucking compromises of couplehood, and it stands as one of the most depressing depictions of love in years. DebbieÂs a controlling shrew, Pete barely hanging on to his sanity, and every gesture becomes an open wound of surrender. Even DebbieÂs alleged love for this man, which is expressed as a driving need to have him around all the time, is little more than possessiveness writ large, as his presence is the only way she can feel wanted while allowing her to keep watch. PeteÂs only sanctuary is a fantasy baseball league, which Debbie initially suspectsÂ is an affair. But itÂs a nice turn (another woman would be more realistic, perhaps, but too obvious just the same), and his reasons for the escape are as understandable as they are cutting. In another violation of expectations, Pete is a good and loving father to his two girls, which makes him a pussy, but somewhat original by the standards of Hollywood. HeÂs just tired and beaten down, not evil or psychotic. HeÂs just a man who thinks, unlike his wife,Â that childproofing the world leads to pathology, not good health. ThereÂs something to be said for those who simply roll the dice andÂ wish for the best, after all. One can only hope that every kid whoÂs spent his or her childhood on endless play dates and overscheduled hell, drowning in a G-rated, sanitized version of life, will one day exact revenge in as violent a manner possible.
I also appreciated DebbieÂs humiliation at the hands of a nightclub doorman. Sure, MILFs are, in their own way, a justified cultural phenomenon, but on the whole, women with families and minivans do not belong anywhere near the bright lights of a cityÂs nightlife. This, of course, is the primary downside of a life like BenÂs, where the charms and excitement of youth become pathetic and sad with the onset of age. The film errs in its conclusion that adulthood stems solely from a house, a spouse, and kids, but it hits a note of triumph when it also demands that people accept lifeÂs limitations. Getting crazy should be a part of everyoneÂs life, but after a certain number of birthdays, it reeks of desperation; the last gasps of a dying ember hopelessly burning out. Some things should be left to the young, and if you make the decision to become a mommy, it canÂt be reversed simply because you still feel the pangs of past days inside you. ItÂs OK that youÂre lifeless and dull and paranoid; thatÂs what youÂre supposed to be as time passes by. ItÂs only embarrassing if you tryÂ and hide it. Consider PeteÂs trip to Las Vegas with Ben: It too resembles a sad parade, even though they stalk the cityÂs grounds stoned out of their minds, lost in utter oblivion. Theirs is but a temporary reversal, that much more devastating because it canÂt ever be repeated. Yes, there comes a time when even Vegas won’tÂ turn the tide. Pete seems to find joy in the laughter of children, given their effortless ability to enjoy everything (even something as simple as bubbles), but thereÂs no going back. Innocence canÂt ever really be recaptured, as its very natureÂ depends on the participant being oblivious that it even exists in the first place. ItÂs only Âinnocent,Â then, upon reflection. ItÂs really ignorance heÂs romanticizing, and I for one would rather be depressed and cynical and fully aware than functionally retarded with a smile plastered on my face. BenÂs about to move from the latter to the former in one hell of a hurry.
So while I could enjoy these verities, as well as a heroic doctor who all but tells Alison to get fucked, I canÂt take these brief fits of laughter and scrub away the overall stench. There are so few heroes left on the silver screen, and weÂre not exactly pushing for a resurgence when we view independence as unhealthy, juvenile, and selfish. So yes, letÂs have a call for the hard-asses of the world to mount a comeback; those who love ’em and leave ’em, play to win, and throw it all away for a thrill, as well as the bastards that would just as soon plug a woman with a .45 as marry her. Where are the lovable losers, the drunks, the poets, and the cads? Will they ever again have their day? LetÂs face it, Ben is a pretty decent guy as is, so why not leave well enough alone? Alison can have her kid, but does she have to bring him into it? Our political and social realms look unfavorably on the godless, the childless, and of course, the jobless, but must our cinema also follow suit? And despite the obligatory fights and reversals and furious explosions, we knewÂ he’dÂ come around. ItÂs this clockwork conformity that should have us all upset, even in the context of a comedy. Movies resonate because they speak to our values — hidden or expressed — and just once IÂd like to feel like we could win one for Ben. The good Ben, the uninhibited Ben, the Ben before the fall.