If you don’t yet know about writer/director Judd Apatow’s arsenal of great comic actors and actresses and his crude sense of humor with a twist of sweetness, you really need to get out more. Get out from under that rock, take your head out of the sand, and go rent 40-Year-Old Virgin. Then, when you’re nice and ready, check out Knocked Up, which I will (cautiously) say is one of the best movies of the year (so far).
When I saw Virgin when it was released into theaters, I fell in love with the movie, Apatow, Paul Rudd (who I used to hate as a screen persona), and… uh, that chunky guy. He didn’t look familiar, but he was hysterical! Then Jim Emerson, one of my favorite critics right now, highlighted him, Seth Rogen, when talking about You, Me, & Dupree. When I saw he was loved by someone else, I checked his filmography, only to see he hadn’t done much more than Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared (both with Apatow writing or directing). I knew I came upon someone very special.
I knew I had to see Knocked Up once I saw the trailer. It’s partially because I have so much faith in Apatow, but I was also struck by the prominence of Rogen, who isn’t the type who plays leading parts, in this movie. He’s the Peter Lorre of his day: undeniably talented, but not fit for leading-man roles in Hollywood movies. Yet he plays the main character in this film about a likable, but not preferably attractive or financially stable, guy who impregnates another twenty-something during a one-night stand and supports her during her pregnant months. And his performance works: it clicks. I don’t doubt the part was practically written for Rogen since it fits his style so well. But even then, who else would have successfully played this part, that of an unemployed guy who smokes pot all day, without bringing in stereotypes and non-realistic reactions to the very serious situation of being a father?
Which brings me to my next point: the story is incredibly realistic. I know that sounds like a cliché or that it’s the movie’s job, but it’s so true. I’ve shared the same exact exchanges with friends that Rogen’s character does with his in the movie, maybe not with the same wit, but with the same tone and vocabulary. The morning after their sexual encounter, Rogen’s and Katherine Heigl’s characters act appropriately awkward given their differences. Rudd and Leslie Mann’s portrayal of the other couple is dead-on, hitting on the downside of marriage with the bite of a great satirist. One of the big laughs is a moment featured in the trailer. Rudd is discussing how unhappy the married life is, and he says, “Marriage is like an unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond. But it doesn’t last twenty-two minutes. It lasts forever.” Such dialogue is so carefully and skillfully constructed by Apatow, a great comic writer.
When I fully took in Apatow’s brand of wit, I was delighted that I could go to a comedy at the movie theater without being insulted by the film. While I think I laughed more in Virgin, I cringed more in Knocked Up, but not in a bad way. The characters are so honest that the audience feels a little embarrassed, as if one of its best-kept secrets has been let out. The joke about Rudd’s character ruining all the good towels has most people “ew”-ing, but that moment has one of the biggest laughs; a moment that was once just between a man and his wife is now on the big screen in thousands of multiplexes. The audience ends up laughing twice as hard: once for the giggles, and another time to sedate the pain. And Apatow makes it so worth it.