'Knocked Up' Flick Didn't Knock Me Out
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Last night I finally saw Knocked Up , Judd Apatow's hilarious new movie, a raunchfest with a family-values core --- carrying on with accidental pregnancies, marriage as responsible adulthood, staying together for the sake of the kids. I'm not going to get into that here, except to second Dana Stevens' great piece in Slate on Hollywood and TV's cowardice about abortion (referred to in Knocked Up by the hero's slacker roommate as "rhymes with shmashmortion" and, by the heroine's ice-cold mother, as "taking care of it").
As she points out, legions of single women in their twenties who get pregnant accidentally like Alison (Katherine Heigl) or Jenna (Keri Russell) in Waitress, have abortions; on the big or small screen, they have miscarriages or babies. In the movies, I might add, accidental babies solve the very issues (men, work, money, dreams) that, in real life, they often worsen. Jenna gives birth, dumps her abusive ox of a husband, wins the baking contest he'd barred her from entering and opens her own pie diner. Alison falls in love with Ben (Seth Rogen), her one-night drunken stand, and, after spending the whole movie hiding her pregnancy to keep her celebrity-reporting job at E!, gets outed -- and promoted. Pregnancy polls really well-- who knew?
Actually, though, the real subject of Knocked Up is the immaturity of men: only under the most desperate circumstances will they put aside their bongs, or their porn, or their even more idiotic friends. If a woman had made this movie she'd be labelled a total man-hater: there isn't one man in it who isn't basically a teenager. But a woman never would have made this movie, because women don't have the fantasy in which willowy creamy world-class beauties like Alison, with brains, great clothes, and tons of self-confidence in bed and out of it, go for men like Ben (Seth Rogen), who is not only an unemployed and underbathed stoner with no ambitions and no visible means of support, but physically unattractive to an alarming degree. A real-life Alison wouldn't have spent one night in his filthy teenage-boy lair of a bedroom, or hung out for one evening with his uber-slacker friends . I'll give you that she might have called him when she discovered she was pregnant-- but offer to entwine herself in coparenting for life with a one-night stand she couldn't even get through breakfast with the next morning? Invite this virtual stranger to all her prenatal checkups? I didn't even invite my husband!
No, this is a male rescue fantasy, like Sideways, in which Paul Giamatti, an bitter, mean, alcoholic, very unattractive failed writer is saved by Virginia Madsen, a gorgeous kindhearted waitress. And like The 40-Year-Old Virgin , Apatow's previous movie, in which Steve Carell, the nerdy obsessive-compulsive loner, is saved by the delightfully easy-going hottie Catherine Keener. The family-values morality of Knocked Up is just window dressing, in my view. It isn't marriage, per se, that makes Ben grow up and get real -- it's Allison, who besides being lovely, is warm, good-hearted, down-to-earth, mature, doesn't ask for marriage or money, and -- this is important -- laughs at his jokes, which are indeed funny.
I'm trying to think of a romantic comedy where these roles are reversed. A clever, screwed up, ugly woman gets the gorgeous hunk who sees her inner beauty. My Big Fat Greek Wedding is the closest I can think of (made by a woman, naturally), but Nia Vardalos's character is actually great looking once she gets out from under her father's thumb -- her mousiness in the early scenes is just a reflection of her downtroddenness. By the end of the movie she looks like, well, a movie star. A Greek movie star. Mostly in films the supposedly ugly-duckling heroine is actually pretty and in great shape, she just needs a makeover and a social life, like Cinderella.
The guys, though, remain their unprepossessing selves. Instead, they grow up just enough to make it to the altar with a hot babe. After that? It's clear that their wives will be the sergeants in the boot camp of married life. They'll be versions of Allison's married sister, who spends her life mourning her declining hotness and reminding her husband of errands and chores he denies having promised to do. This man is so childish that he sneaks out of the house on pretext of work not to have an affair, as his wife fears -- but to play fantasy baseball with the guys.
That's marriage in today's family-values Hollywood -- dysfunctional schlub meets hottie with a heart of gold. Boy meets Mom.
Katha Pollitt is a columnist for The Nation.