Above all other concerns, the guiding objective of comedy is to be funny. Knocked Up achieves this goal in spades. Yet what makes Judd Apatow’s follow-up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin such a consistently good time is its ability to provide sincere rom-com sweetness without sacrificing any of its lewd, profane edge. Whereas a hit like Wedding Crashers struck such a balance somewhat awkwardly—structured so that the first half was for boys-boy rowdiness, and the second half for girly-girl romance—Apatow’s latest tackles both exigencies nearly simultaneously, a considerable feat aided by the writer-director’s adept ability to wring laughs not from outrageous farce and slapstick but, instead, from real-world situations and dilemmas. Relatability is certainly a key component of Knocked Up‘s inherent appeal, as it plunders for humor that most nightmarish of singles’ fears, unwanted pregnancy, via the story of Alison (Katherine Heigl) and Ben (Seth Rogen), a mismatched twosome whose polar-opposite lives are accidentally entwined by a drunken one-night stand that, due to miscommunication over use of a condom (the momentous phrase in question being “Just do it already!”), find themselves expecting a baby.
As Alison has recently been promoted to on-air talent at E! (a gig that requires she “tighten” her body), a bun in the oven isn’t in the cards, and especially with a slob like Ben, whose life consists of getting high and “working” with his grungy housemates on a start-up celebrity nudity Internet business. Still, narrative demands require that Alison keep the child, a decision that leads her to try to fashion a relationship with the immature Ben, whose uncouthness is the catalyst for most of the film’s odd-couple jokes. As they attempt to fall in love while coming to grips with the monumental responsibilities pregnancy and marriage portend, Apatow amplifies his dynamic-of-contrasts by providing the duo with spousal/parental role models in the form of Alison’s strong-willed sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her similarly unhappy, wisecracking husband Pete (the typically brilliant Paul Rudd). The tensely married couple is struggling mightily to maintain sanity and sexual intimacy amid child-raising (“Marriage is like an unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond” is how Pete sums up his life), troubles which are foreign to Ben’s slackerdaisical buddies (scene-stealers Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, and Jason Segel), whose juvenile interactions with each other resonate with a side-splitting blend of offhand nastiness, imaginative profanity, and casual pop-culture references.
Apatow’s direction amounts to little more than mundane setups and a few shaky camera jitters during doctor’s office incidents, and his screenplay never truly justifies Alison’s borderline-immediate love for Ben nor convincingly dramatizes the 23-year-old Ben’s desire to grow up and embrace accountability. And yet the plethora and sharpness of Knocked Up‘s hilarious moments—most of which involve Rogen, flashing pudgy charm and clever wit in his first leading role—is arresting, from Ben and friends’ constant insults about a roommate’s scraggly beard, to his impending fatherhood-inspired disgust with the reckless irresponsibility of Cheaper by the Dozen, to a riotously astute love scene between Ben and a very pregnant Alison. Equally comfortable indulging in stoner gags and drolly mining relationship issues (feelings of insecurity, the conflict between individuality and togetherness), all while never skewing too heavily toward one mode or the other, the film is close to an ideal date movie, deftly offering “his” and “her” pleasures while also speaking to its with-child audience members (in other words, those familiar with “bloody show”). In fact, so successful is Knocked Up at providing something for everyone that, by its surprisingly graphic finale, it even proves to be a potential alternative for high school biology teachers tired of showing students The Miracle of Life.