Sunday, March 09, 2008

LATE-TERM REVIEW. Finally saw Knocked Up, the funny movie that was supposed to ban abortion. I kind of liked it, yet still endorse Roe v. Wade. How can it be? Well, I'm a little old to be making important decisions about life based on Hollywood movies, and have been since I was 12.

There isn't much to analyze. It's the old drunk-song of renewal, with a stoner chorus and other modern accoutrements. Chance hookup results in a child, entertainingly disparate parents have to come to terms. A good point of comparison is A Thousand Clowns. In that case the father was an uncle, the kid had long since escaped the amniotic sac, and the female factor came in the form of a social worker. Nonetheless, like the 2007 film, the 1965 film allowed us to savor the pleasures of nonconformity (though in the form of genuine wit instead of flaming boxing glove matches) before truckling to the middle-class values of its audience. And there was a bit more rue attending to the decision to straighten up and fly right for the sake of a child. The 60s really were a different time, though the mild undercurrent of misogyny seems to have survived intact. (Ben's smackdown of Debbie outside the delivery room is one of Knocked Up's surprisingly graceless notes.)

I can understand and endorse the popularity of Knocked Up on less depressing grounds. Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen are hella charming as Alison and Ben. She has enough weird nervous tension under her glamour to suggest deeper needs than her plans can fulfill, which justifies her unexpected decisions. And he has real soul behind his goofball persona: from the outset of the meet-drunk romance, we see that he has the spark of life, and we also see that he's decent and capable. In fact we can see it more clearly than he does, which makes him interesting. (It was very bright of Apatow to have the lugubrious Jason second Ben when they approach Debbie and Alison in the club; Jason's not bad, in his way, but it's immediately clear that he lacks what Ben has, despite their outward similarities.)

Again, there's not much to analyze, but I have to add that the New Yorker's David Denby (who has grown more, um, thoughtful since the days when he was comparing Flash Gordon unfavorably to Robert Altman's "crankily personal" [!] Popeye in New York magazine) is mistaken to worry that Knocked Up "breaks with the classic patterns of romantic comedy" for a new "slacker-striver romance." Dude, Ben got a job. In terms of film comedy Knocked Up isn't "heading off into a brave and uncertain new direction" -- it's going back to basics.

That isn't entirely a bad thing, though the great romantic comedy filmmakers Denby cites do have, so far, an edge on Apatow: we can't be sure people will be watching Knocked Up with affection even ten years from now. I saw Sixteen Candles today. It sucks. I mean, it just sucks. "I can't believe I gave my panties to a geek" is kind of a funny line, but so is "I can't let you in cause you're old as fuck," and after 2012 who's going to appreciate it besides people who nostalgically associate it with their youth? If you ran The Lady Eve or My Man Godfrey today for a non-mouth-breathing crowd, they'd still get it. When Irene says the sponging pianist Carlo will give his concert as soon as he's strong enough, and her put-upon father remarks, "He could give a bang-up concert right now with a knife and fork," idiom would not prevent appreciation of the home truth,

I like to think that, years from now, the charms of Rogen and Heigl will still play. But what about the Paul Rudd-Leslie Mann subplot? Will some graybeard have to explain to younger viewers why Pete is a dick and Debbie is a bitch? Or why they sort of hate each other? Or why, despite all that, they're role models for Ben and Alison? I'm not sure I could explain it now.

But let us chill, dudes: now is now, and Knocked Up is fun. Let's fight over abortion and posterity another time. Or in comments!

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