Comedy is the most fickle of genres - so many comedians have been called the Next Big Thing™ only to be outed as one trick ponies a few films down the line. There's a constant shift in comedy that swirls round every few years and it looks like 2007 is a time for change; Ben Stiller is looking more like a monkey than ever; Will Ferrell looks like he's going down the Jim Carrey route; Vince Vaughn has been sucked into the murky world of tabloid tat; Owen Wilson finally saw You, Me & Dupree
and tried to kill himself. Yep, it's time for Judd Apatow to take the reigns and shake some laughs back into comedy.
Apatow, who first shot to fame with underrated (and subsequently cancelled) TV series Freaks And Geeks, has been plugging away for a while, but 2007 will be remembered as the year he hit the big-time. Together with his interchangeable cast of nerds, geeks and losers, he's been behind the two funniest films of the year; he produced Superbad
, released this month in the UK, and he's the proud parent of Knocked Up - the comedy critics are already hailing as the year's best.
Like 2005's The 40 Year-Old Virgin (also directed by Apatow), Knocked Up marries crude, unsophisticated humour with an undercurrent of sweetness - the characters are crass, sometimes unforgivably so, but they're lovable and three-dimensional and real. Humour here is not generated by gross-out moments or silly accents or ridiculous characters. The movie's tagline is the source of the laughs and an intriguing question to boot: what does
happens when an ugly guy gets a hot chick pregnant?
Ben (Rogen) is an unemployed layabout, intent on living life to the max with the minimum of effort (a man after my own heart). While partying in a nightclub with his buddies, he bumps into Alison (Heigl), an E! TV presenter out celebrating her promotion with sister Debbie (Leslie Mann). Following one too many Coronas and a little B&G on the dance floor, the drunken couple end up copping off and sleeping with one another. Upon waking up next to a prone, hungover oaf, Alison makes her excuses and leaves, only to find out weeks later she's up the duff ("Was your vagina drunk?" asks Rogen) and not only that, but the father is a weed-smoking, jobless, Xbox-playing man child. Score!
Knocked Up is that rare comedy that will appeal to both boys and girls - the lads will get a kick out of Rogen and his housemates' frat boy stoner antics, while the lasses will identify with Heigl's dilemma and her impossible mission to clean up her man. It's a movie with heart and
with balls, and it knows when to use each of them. Rogen is a stand-out: he's a fun-loving waster with little time for responsibility but he's also got the vulnerability that the ladies love ("I'm the guys that girls fuck over," he tells Alison - expect coos from the girlfriend at this point). A bona fide star in the making, Rogen is well-supported by his loyal crew, including Superbad's Jonah Hill among others. Their pop culture back-and-forth and verbal bitch slaps are effortlessly hilarious, unscripted and the film's most frequent source of comedy.
Conversely, Heigl is note perfect as Alison - neurotic and controlling, yet equally vulnerable and needy, she's got an earthiness that's universally appealing (and, of course, it helps that she's five-finger sexy). Forever by her side is the excellent Leslie Mann as her sister, who has her own sub-story involving her relationship with husband Pete, played by Paul Rudd. It's a neat parallel as Ben and Alison get nearer to their due date, the bickering married couple showing them exactly how not
to do a relationship. "Marriage is like an unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond," says a downtrodden Pete, "Only it doesn't last 20 minutes... it lasts forever."
(Rudd, typically, is outstanding. I honestly can't believe this guy hasn't broken through to the A-list yet. The hotel room scene after the Cirque de Soleil trip is my favourite of the year so far - there aren't many people who can make me laugh by sitting in different chairs. Note to Hollywood: pull your fucking finger out and make Rudd a star.)
Too many recent comedies rely on ever-more outlandish premises to pull in laughs ('What if Comedian A teamed up with Comedian B to tackle Situation C?') but Knocked Up proves that the best comedies are born out of real, relatable situations. How many boys out there are going to see parts of themselves in Ben? He's a kid who doesn't want to grow up and figures that responsibility is for people with jobs and mortgages and wives. And how many girls will empathise with Alison? She's a focus, driven young woman with career prospects galore, yet one sweaty night with Rogen's broke ass later, she's boned in more ways than one. Put your Dodgeballs away, Stiller; stuff your store-bought bravado, Ferrell - there's only one guy out there making comedy that's not superficial or self-important, and his name is Judd Apatow.
If you'll allow me to make a laboured point (groan), then Knocked Up could well be considered the birth of a new era of comedy. If all this praise sounds like hyperbole, then prove me wrong in a couple of years - at the moment at least, it seems Apatow and co. can do no wrong. For now, just be grateful that these guys are making movies - they're not big (yet), they're not clever and they sure as shit ain't pretty, but by the power of Grayskull, they're funny as hell. Make it your priority to see this film immediately.