Oh How I Hated Knocked Up

No, no. No no no.

Knocked Up - Birthroom
Congratulations! It’s accidental misogyny

No, I didn’t think this was that funny. No, I didn’t like it as much as 40-Year-Old Virgin or A Mighty Wind or even Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. No, I don’t think I’d watch it again, except as a game where you drink when something implausible happens.

It’s a shame, cos all the acting is totally there. Katherine Heigl is just right for being way too hot for the part, all doe eyes and warm-blooded authenticity. Seth Rogen is just right despite playing his least likable character. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd are just right, even if the former doesn’t get to say “Freench Toast” and the latter doesn’t get a room-trashing fit of pique. And half the script is really good. Which makes the other half look especially ungood.

Forgive the sexually explicit and way-too-detailed heckle that follows, but I feel a need to be honest and thorough, as this movie was not.

I had high hopes for Knocked Up. It was praised with high praise, strongly recommended, hotly buzzed, and possessed of 40-Year-Old Virgin‘s esteemed talent pool and my “Freaks & Geeks” crush on Seth Rogen.

Knocked Up - Oyfro
Shirt by Hollister. Oyfro by Gamgee

So why, like no-sugar-added ice cream, did Knocked Up leave such a bad taste in my mouth?

I blame a shotgun union of Freaks-n-Geeks verisimilitude with 40-Year-Old-Virgin suspension of disbelief. Apatow and Rogen notwithstanding, between the fantasy sequence and musical number 40YOV’s tone is more consistent with Anchorman or A Mighty Wind than the painful truths of FnG. Knocked Up tries to rejoin the hyper-real (f’rinstance, Rogen goes from being the least attractive guy in 40YOV’s man posse to the most attractive in KU’s) and ends up, like a Daniel Edwards’ sculpture, in a terribly unflattering straddle position.

When the man posse is on screen in KU, the Painful Truth Comedy abounds — simulating sex to celebrate a perceived booty call, fearing pubic hairs in the bathroom, acquiring pinkeye — and it is this movie’s saving grace. When the woman posse (did I say posse? There are two of them) is on screen, the narrative takes a turn for confusing Hollywood convenience.

It’s OK when Jane Lynch’s libidinous manager gets cartoony in 40YOV, because we aren’t asked to invest in her emotionally. But Leslie Mann’s brittle sister controls, snoops, and explains to Alison that you must tear down a man’s self-esteem in order to change him, yet Alison fears commitment because her sister’s marriage is troubled? Geesh. She should love watching people get out of miserable marriages. It’s better than Project Runway.

Knocked Up - Brittle
Honey, I think this coffee tastes brittle… Bitter! I meant bitter

But Katherine Heigl’s Alison exhibits so many weird, arbitrary, and unexplained behaviors that, looking back on it, I sort of worry about her.

  • She has a one-night-stand with a stranger — followed by breakfast at a restaurant! — and utterly forgets about it.
  • While we’re at it, Sis leaves her alone at a bar with that stranger, and Brother-In-Law sees that stranger leave the next morning. But when Alison brings up the one-night-stand with Sis a couple of months later, Sis is all like “Who?”
  • She misses her period — twice, if it’s been eight weeks — and chalks it up to not noticing because of stress. There are lots of reasons not to have your menstrual cycle as evidence of pregnancy. She could have a history of irregular periods. She could have a history of missing her period when she’s stressed out (that’s where I thought this conversation was going, but no). She could have had spotting. Instead of any of these plausible options, Apatow has her just flake. About whether she had a period at all. In the last two months. Weird.
  • She takes Ben along to all her OB/GYN appointments (weird; throws him out of the car en route to one (weirder) and has a screaming match with him in a doctor’s office (weirdest!). Dunno if I’ve mentioned, but characters screaming at each other is a BIG problem for me — the screaming-in-the-rain scene in Chasing Amy killed all my investment in the characters and my interest in the movie, and about the same thing happened here. Who does this? Who yells “f*** you” to each other? And why should I want them to be happy?
  • She doesn’t know what a “bloody show” is. Neither do I, but I never had a baby and bought five books about it and got all mad when my boyfriend didn’t read them. By the rules of this movie, Ben can’t know anything about childbirth that Alison doesn’t know. Alison can know what he’s talking about and still be impressed that he finally read his books, but Apatow has her be all like “huh?”

    This is so like the end of Reality Bites where you’re supposed to sympathize with bitter Ethan Hawke because Ben Stiller’s educated mensch suddenly doesn’t know what Hamlet is and gets all pissy about it. He would know what Hamlet is. Stop violating your internal logic.

    KO - Reality Bites
    Ow, my internal logic

    Furthermore, if you don’t know if your water broke, you probably don’t know if you had a “bloody show” either. Furthermore, if your contractions are seven minutes apart, it’s about hospital time. Furthermore, if your contractions are seven minutes apart after just a couple of hours of labor and it’s your first baby, you might be an alien from the planet Amazing.

I could get behind these weirdnesses if they were acknowledged by the script. But everyone in this movie seems to agree that Ben is lucky to be with Alison, she’s awesome, he sucks, he has to change to be good enough for her, she doesn’t have to change at all. It would be a better story if these people BOTH had to come to terms with each others pros and cons and human crappinesses. Even Cindy Sanders cut the cheese.

Instead, Alison is an entertainment reporter with covergirl looks, upperclass background, miraculous fertility and the ability to orgasm by penetration alone. Hell, I’d marry her.

A few small suggestions for transforming Alison’s screaming saint into a human being:

  • A Rival. A woman this extravagantly beautiful, successful and (at least outwardly) well-adjusted would have some beloved male friend or ex-boyfriend in her life willing to drop everything to marry her and raise her kid. In the most modest instance, this man would cross her mind. In the least modest instance, he would learn of her condition and wage a careful courtship. But considering Alison’s social circle extends only to her sister, maybe she first needs…
  • Some Friends. Why does Ben get *four* screwball friends, plus a semi-brother-in-law, and Alison gets nothing but a sister? Sure, there’s a wardrobe assistant and the guy in the tech booth, but these aren’t the kind of people you tell about your gas (a la Sex and the City) or your hemorrhoids (a la For Keeps?). The effect is to turn Alison into, like, a homeschooled kid kept insulated from the outside world (even her sister with two kids hasn’t explained to her that she’s probably going to want an epidural). Which brings me to…
  • Some Backstory. Maybe Alison lives with her sister and doesn’t have any local friends because she just moved to the area. At her age, it would make sense if she just graduated from college and moved out to LA. But WHOOPS that’s not it, because she bumps into three college friends outside the baby furniture store. Huh. So. I give up.
  • Some more conversation with Mom. Wow, Joanna Kerns looks great. I wonder what else she’s been doing? Whoops, the scene’s over… Telling my mom I was pregnant out of wedlock would be the end of civilization and a source of dread and nausea for a week prior, and I’m almost frickin’ thirty. It would have been nice to see how Alison approached it. At all.
  • An encounter with the discarded condom. Like the answer to “how did Alison miss her period and not know?” the answer to “how did Ben and Alison have unprotected sex?” is unsatisfactory to the point of offensive. On the list of preferable possibilities — a failed IUD. A condom put on backwards at first and then turned around. A condom broken and discarded with neither drunken party noticing.

    Knocked Up - IUD
    98% efficacy = Comedy Gold!

    It is an enormous oversight to me that in the morning Alison doesn’t discover Ben’s open but unused condom on the floor where we saw him drop it. Did he throw it away in the night? Did she not notice it wasn’t used? Sorry these are gross questions, kids, but a movie willing to show me a crowning baby head three times needed to answer these.

(For what it’s worth, what *doesn’t* bother me is, as the Slate complains, we don’t see Alison face the abortion question. I think we do. Her mother advises her to “get rid of it,” and when she sees the heartbeat on the ultrasound Alison bursts into tears. Later she tearfully tells Ben she’s keeping it, implying they’ve both considered the option that she wouldn’t. Abortion certainly isn’t treated as the non-option I had been led to believe it would be.)

While I’m slinging beefs:

  • Did Ben have to be SUCH a mook? Did he have to be completely unemployed? Completely dismissive of her job? Completely trying to profit from naked celebrities? He could be a regular guy, and Alison might still not want a second date, and the story would be credible. That doesn’t make her a bad person. Having a one-night-stand and utterly forgetting about it, maybe…
  • I could be wrong here, but my understanding is that, for women, sex with or without a condom feels about the same. I mean, in laboratory conditions we can pass the Pepsi challenge, but if we have reason to believe a condom’s in play then sensation is little evidence to contradict it. So my hackles went up a bit when Ben went on his “dick-skin condom” rant and Alison’s sole argument is “I was drunk.” But this is the same woman who always has sex with her bra on, whose only sexual advice is “harder, harder,” and who can approach orgasm when Muniched with no manual assistance, so I confess this is not a species I’m acquainted with.
  • I haven’t done the one-night-stand thing, so I could be way off here — but if I found out my sexual partner had not used a condom against my wishes I would want to throw up. Dinner table and everything. It felt grossly unfair that Ben comes across as the more affronted party in this revelation scene. Ew. Ew ew ew ew ew.

    KO - Squidgy Fees
    Oooooh I think I’m gonna barf

  • You know what’s awesome? When all Sis needs to come around to liking Ben is for him to swear at her and throw her out of the birth room without Alison’s input on the situation at all! Chicks love it when you yell at them! Wheee!
  • What chemical did the script secrete to make the scenes with Alan Tudyk (as Greg Kinnear) so unpleasant? Making Alan Tudyk unfunny is like scaling the Empire State Building — it’s physically possible, but extremely difficult, dangerous, and best left to professionals. But he’s got a Mighty-Wind intensity, which doesn’t work here, and is exaggerated by the FnG deadpan of Kristin Wiig, which does.

    It doesn’t help that the joke of the first scene — that they think Katherine Heigl’s Alison, of the long and cartilaginous throat, should lose twenty pounds — rings as hollow as the joke of the last — that deceiving your bosses will get you promoted. I got a bleak thrill out of seeing Alison in a cubicle toward the end of the second act — did it mean her cowardly refusal to tell HR of her obvious pregnancy had resulted in her demotion? that this movie reflects the professional world’s contempt for pregnant women and the entertainment world’s contempt for the bloated? — but Alison lives in the Hollywood part of this movie, so no.

  • Just as the “lose weight” joke fails because it’s treated as real and reasonable, the cameos by James Franco and Steve Carell cause discomfort for the same reason. It’s not funny when Franco gets pissed off at Alison’s sickness, because it feels like it’s supposed to be real. It’s not funny when Alison tells Steve Carell he’s “acting like an asshole,” because it feels like it’s supposed to be real. This isn’t the kind of feel-bad comedy I signed up for.


Knocked Up not as good as Forty-Year-Old Virgin.

I have. A theory. About why a director’s second major movie tends not to be as good as the first.

On the first movie, the actors are more experienced than he is, and they’ll test him. They won’t wear the blue jacket unless it’s motivated by the character. They won’t cross to frame left unless it’s important to the narrative.

Bruce Campbell has a great story about Gene Hackman doing this with Sam Raimi on the set of “The Quick and the Dead.” And I’ve heard a couple of stories from NCSA-bred movies where the name actor arrives and production slows down because he challenges the director.

But that’s not a bad thing! Especially if you can be prepared for it. The best possibility is meeting and rehearsing with the name actor before production, so you can earn his trust and get on the same page about costume, props, performance, etc.

Often that’s not possible, because you only got your name actor at the last minute because he wasn’t offered a more profitable/prestigious gig and decided to throw you a bone. So you have to work these things out during production.

What challenging the director does is force him to understand his story, which is his only job. He should be able to tell you why you would wear the blue jacket, or at least start asking those kinds of questions himself. If your production can handle it, a “difficult” actor is well-worth his difficulty. Asking why the blue jacket is important is the difference between a valuable addition to your cast and a hired gun.

And then you get Gene Hackman in your cult western. Gene Hackman!

Knocked Up - Gene Hackman

A-a-a-a-and spentitude.


Draws. Sweats. Eats too much sugar-free candy.

You may also like...

%d bloggers like this: