Knocked Up

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No conclusion has ever been more foregone: Knocked Up is going to be a huge hit. The hero's a slob, the story is about what the title says it's about, and the movie goes about telling it in a style that's sexually explicit, often coarse and occasionally crude. So should the film be seen as just another sign of civilization’s decline? Not for a moment. Judd Apatow's comedy of manners -- bad and good -- is a cause for celebration.  The laugh lines are smart, and they come faster than you can process them. For anyone concerned about the state of mainstream films, this is also an occasion for some wonderment at Apatow's gift for mating the crowd-pleasing raunchiness with a generous spirit, genuine sweetness, uncommon delicacy, zestful social criticism and a moral dimension that provides substance and meaning without ever getting in the way.

The premise is almost as simple as it seems. The slob hooks up at a bar with a gorgeous blonde who's there to celebrate a big promotion. A few weeks after their drunken encounter (which is more plausible than it sounds), she's pregnant and he's dumbfounded. But the complications begin with a pair of beautifully nuanced performances -- Seth Rogen is Ben, Katherine Heigl is Allison -- and they proceed from the characters' essential selves.

Behind Allison's façade of professional accomplishment, she may be one more child about to have a child, but having her child is a given; she never considers abortion as an option. (The birth scene, by the way, is strong stuff to behold.) Behind Ben's slob exterior, he may be a hapless boor and a quintessential slacker -- he and his goony buddies are trying, in their cyberspace-cadet fashion, to put together a soft-core Web site -- but he's also tender, gentle, and vulnerable, an overgrown, under socialized boy with a touching potential for commitment and growth.

Two years ago Judd Apatow directed The 40 Year Old Virgin, a similarly raunchy and improbably affecting comedy that he co-wrote with Steve Carell. That film starred Carell in the title role of Andy, a shy guy working in… an electronics store, and one of Andy's co-workers, Cal, was played by Seth Rogen, who helped inspire the idea for this film. Far from buff and given to bleak expressions, Rogen is an unlikely candidate for the post of matinee idol, but then so was Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. And Katherine Heigl follows in the footsteps of great beauties like Michelle Pfeiffer or, most recently, Keri Russell, who break out of the beauty trap with comedic smarts and fierce passion.

Knocked Up is full of fine performances: Judd Apatow's skill as a writer is matched by his direction of actors. Several people in the cast were previously seen in The 40 Year Old Virgin and/or Judd Apatow's late lamented TV series Freaks and Geeks -- most prominently the filmmaker's wife, Leslie Mann, and Paul Rudd. They play Allison's sister, Debbie, and her husband, Pete, whose married life is a no-fun-house-mirror version of what Ben and Allison's alliance might be. It's really a quite grim picture, as well as a hilarious one, of a couple struggling to make their marriage work, just as Ben and his achievement-free buds are a sharply comic reflection of American adolescence as a lifelong career. Yet the movie's big heart isn't in criticizing the way people live. Knocked Up has a more hopeful outlook on life, and on Ben's and Allison's prospects. Of all things, it’s a celebration of family values.