DVD review: Knocked Up, Dec 07 issue

“Knocked Up” throws away the rule book on romantic comedy to give us a giddy relationship story that is as fresh and messy as real life.
The smart, sharp story is neither a male fantasy (though it surges with high-testosterone, R-rated rowdiness) nor a female date-movie daydream (though it overflows with heart). There’s no magic or fate in the way the Ben (Seth Rogen) and Alison (Katherine Heigl) meet; they just bump elbows at a club. There are no contrived hurdles keeping them apart until the fadeout; they’re just unsuitable for each other. She’s a stunning, ambitious interviewer for the E! channel. He’s a pudgy pothead slacker. Lovely individuals. As a couple, inconceivable.

Yet after a night of dancing and drinks to celebrate her promotion to on-air talent, the tipsy Alison finds herself stripping down with Ben. (“You’re prettier than I am,” is his disarming idea of sweet talk.) Since the camera-ready blonde is so far out of his league – Ben resembles a scruffy, pink-painted Shrek – their hookup looks as if it will be a one-night stand.
But when a birth-control blunder turns the pair into expectant parents, they set out to fashion an alliance, move on to “friendship with benefits,” and press ahead into love, commitment and sacrifice. The film is a ringing defense of traditional values, delivered with clever, raunchy humor.
Like “The 40 Year-old Virgin,” Judd Apatow’s debut film as a writer/director, “Knocked Up’ is a winning ensemble comedy with a rudimentary plot. Apatow, who honed his craft on standout TV shows such as “Freaks and Geeks,” “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Undeclared,” understands that appealing characters are the lifeblood of the genre, and delivers them.
Rogen, a scalawag supporting actor in his first starring role, makes Ben the kind of easygoing, sardonic dude you’d like to pal around with. He’s not such a good bet for a life partner on paper. He rooms with four arrested-adolescent stoners, and his idea of a career plan is building an Internet database of tasty movie nude scenes. When Heigl’s Alison sees him playing with her little nieces, though, she melts, and so do we.
Alison is no “Legally Blonde” stereotype of young, successful beauty, but a tolerant, warmhearted optimist who believes that her sister’s bad marriage won’t be the pattern for her relationship. Ben’s reluctance to memorize baby books and tuck in his shirt for a real job, along with Alison’s hormone-induced mood swings and the likelihood that her TV bosses won’t take kindly to her increasingly visible pregnancy, contribute an undercurrent of comic tension.
Around the couple, Apatow builds a solid foundation of likable minor characters. Alison’s pampered but vinegary sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife) and her agitated recording executive husband Pete (Paul Rudd) are still wrestling with individualism and togetherness issues. Debbie wants exciting girls’ nights on the town (leading to a hilarious scene where a club doorman informs her she’s too old), and after hours Pete sneaks off to so-called work meetings (which cover up his secret passion).
Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill and Martin Starr play Ben’s roomies and deliver some of the most quotable bull-session insult profanity since – well, since “The 40 Year-Old Virgin.” The smallest parts are so richly conceived and well cast that you can’t wait until the characters wander back into the story.
Singer-songwriter Loudon Wainwright III plays a reassuring but irresponsible ob-gyn to sly effect. Charlyne Yi is a hoot as a hippie chick who invites Alison to “trade boyfriends – just kidding,” and Kirsten Wiig is explosively funny as a conniving E! producer who encourages the willowy interviewer to “tighten” her body before going on-camera. James Franco, Steve Carell and Ryan Seacrest parody themselves in short, vivid cameos.
“Knocked Up” invites us to spend a lot of time in this crew’s company – it clocks in at a longish two hours and 12 minutes – but the astute mix of soul-baring and stoner gags keeps the film from overstaying its welcome. Grownups, your summer smash has arrived.

3 { stars
Starring: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl
Directed by: Judd Apatow
Rated R for sexual content, drug use and language
Reviewed by Colin Covert