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Baby on Board: A Review of Knocked Up

June 5, 2007

Getting knocked up is no laughing matter. Except when it involves a successful, carefree, all-American beauty who finds herself with a bun in the oven after a one-night stand with a pudgy, poofy-haired, unemployed stoner. Director Judd Apatow transforms what could be deemed a mistake of Greek tragic proportions into the premise for a contemporary comedy about learning to play the hand you're dealt with joy and humor--even if you don't know the rules of the game. Apatow takes us from The 40-year-old Virgin(his last film) to the perils of pregnancy in Knocked Up, a hilarious and heartfelt film that is spot-on in its critique of Hollywood, a generation of stoners in a prolonged adolescence, suburban moms, and the rites of passage involved in coming full circle--and into one's own.

Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen play the accidental parents in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up. Photo courtesy Universal Studios

Ben (Seth Rogen) is your quintessentially clueless-yet-affable, goofy Jewish guy. Alison (Katherine Heigl) has girl-next-door appeal that puts her on the fast track to entertainment reporting stardom. Together, the unlikely pairing resonates with surprising harmony. This odd couple, who come together after a serendipitous meeting at a cliché club, has the chemistry and comedic acumen to carry the film beyond the cheap laughs and contrived jokes of a boy-meets-girl-comedy-gone-wrong. The well-written script, full of pithy one-liners and atypical plot pairings (i.e. psychedelics and Cirque du Soleil) rings true with viewers who flitter between the maturity of adulthood and Peter Pan syndrome.

Along with Ben's motley crew of goofball stoners and sleazebag players whose antics provide comic relief during times of crisis, and Alison's type-A sister Debbie and her dysfunctional suburban family, the film explores the tensions between the free and unfettered single life and the stability and comfort of marriage and family. With irreverence and verve, the well-chosen cast brings to light the underlying issues of bringing up baby: the complexity of building a family, the negotiation between partnership and personal independence, parenting paranoia over mercury and child molesters, and finally, that fuzzy warm feeling some call love that is hard to find and even harder to accept. What makes this movie so successful is not only its potty humor and snappy one-liners, but a cast of characters that is endearing in their flawed, dysfunctional glory. Add in a cameo appearance by Ryan Seacrest, and you've got the makings of a marvelous romantic comedy.

Only through stereotypical physical characteristics and tangential pop-culture references do viewers come to understand that Ben is Jewish and Alison is not. Their relationship is clearly in the fetal stages, and therefore the question of religion is never broached. If anything, it is the absence of this topic that makes the biggest statement--it is not a salient issue for the couple, in the way that, say, Alison's annoyance with Ben's pot-smoking or what OB-GYN they are going to choose is. Judaism is mentioned only peripherally, in much the same way MTV gets a cheap laugh off of shows like "Jewtastic"--Ben's Jew-fro, Jews kicking ass in the film Munich, and Ben's stereotypically wise, weed-smoking Jewish father. There is nothing to suggest that knocking up a non-Jew was any more taboo than knocking up a nice Jewish girl.

Not to fear, the film never crosses the line from genuine to gushy, nor does it ooze with the saccharine artificiality of many romantic comedies. While the blossoming relationship between Ben and Alison is at times unrealistically simplistic, and their reconciliation is glossed over by the fact that Ben eventually read books on parenting, these missteps are easily forgiven. Despite the fact that Ben puts his foot in his mouth throughout most of the movie, we find it hard not to like the guy (even if he proposes with an empty ring box).

Both characters want to make the best of the situation, and it is refreshing to watch their transformation from image-conscious entertainment reporter and directionless slacker living off a windfall from an accident claim into full-fledged responsible adults. The film captures Generation Y's reluctance to grow up and take responsibility, as well as the couple's eventual success in making a difficult situation work, despite the odds.

Alizah Salario

Alizah Salario is a freelance writer and teacher who currently lives in Chicago.

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