Knocked Up is, as many have already noted, a delight, a smart, sharp, sometimes vulgar comedy that aims to go somewhere real but keeps finding humor in the situations created by the characters' neuroses. It's also a treat for me, for the sheer number of actors in it who have enhanced previous Judd Apatow projects Freaks and Geeks, and Undeclared. Along with the cast of The 40 Year Old Virgin (whose Paul Rudd appears here, as well as Seth Rogen, who has appeared in all his creations), Apatow's now built a sizable and talented repertory of character actors of all shapes, sizes and looks to work with. He's becoming like a modern-day Preston Sturges in doing comedy both timely and timeless, while working with a favorite group of actors. They clearly feed off each other's energy, developing their characters by improvising in places to enhance the script. Freaks and Geeks' Martin Starr is virtually unrecognizable under his ever-increasing beard here, as one of Rogen's stoner compadres; former Freak Jason Segel is nicely mellow and confident, while Undeclared's Jay Baruchel is already a master of facial expressions and comic timing. (And even Undeclared dad and folk singer Loudon Wainwright III appears here as an unreliable gynecologist.) They all work well together with Rogen, while Rudd's oft-clueless husband Pete fits in perfectly in this atmosphere of male bonding and aimlessness. (One of the film's best jokes - which is handled so straightfaced, and in the best Apatow tradition, with an underlying layer of anger that makes you forget it's a joke - involves Pete's "secret life.") Apatow and his casting people have such keen eyes for discoveries - particularly for nerdier males - and neurotic females (SNL's Kirsten Wiig is hilarious as a deadpan bitchy E! executive).
And what of the women? This is clearly a male's domain, but Apatow has a decided affection for the female characters, while thankfully not putting them on a pedestal. While Katherine Heigl's Alison is almost too good to be true in some ways, the script gives her moments where she's scared, anxious - understandable - and appropriately repulsed by the behavior of the men whose world she's unexpectedly become a part of. While one has to suspend disbelief a bit to buy the relationship, despite the script's best efforts to show how aware they are of how much of a mismatch they are, it's not a huge debit. Leslie Mann (Apatow's wife) is fantastic as Heigel's sister Debbie, Pete's wife, a wonderfully imperfect mix of insecurity and snobbery, horrified about the prospects of aging. (One of the film's many uncomfortable scenes has her arguing painfully with a bouncer at a nightclub, who, in a surprise moment, takes her aside and tells it like it is. It's a ferocious, awkward scene that is not entirely believable but has him speaking the truth of the superficiality of LA's - and modern society in general - youth-obsessed culture.)
Many critics have called the film "conservative" in its beliefs, in that she decides to keep the baby and in how it works them towards domesticity. The film in a way is about choice, though, both the protagonists' choice and (not to sound flippant) the choice a writer makes to tell a story. A film where the couple chooses to have an abortion could be entirely interesting, but would not be the same film - it would likely be a shorter one, perhaps, and probably not all that humorous, either (although there's room for humor in anything, and I suppose it could still be a story of two people who gradually come together). People make choices and - for now at least - this country (or parts of it) allow for women to make that choice. In <i>this</i> story, the characters decide keep the baby and that is what it's about. This is The Situation that any comedy script needs; in this case, it's, How do we have this baby? Still, I can see how people can politicize this scenario, but really don't think this was Apatow's intention at all.
On the other hand, the quite brief sequence where Heigl's character has to decide about keeping it or not - where her mom tells her to get rid of it, and she worries about how it will effect her career (understandably, given she's become an on-air personality on the superficial E! network) - is almost rushed or glossed over. It's difficult to get a sense as to why she decides to keep it (again, not disputing her character's decision, just wanting to know more as to why) -- even though it may put her career in jeopardy and the father is not someone she has any confidence in at all. It's almost as if Apatow didn't want to go There. And maybe he has a point. Because this film is less about the choice - which he takes as a given - than it is about the aftermath. And only one potential aftermath. The other one would be a different film. His two feature films have both been about men with Peter Pan syndrome, and are both an accurate depiction of the crises these men face when they actually attempt to grow out of that while trying to maintain that sense of childlike wonder. And the greater point is, the characters make these kinds of films, and all of them here are so well-drawn, real, human, funny, empathetic, that politics seems really far from here. That's not to forgive a few parts where credulity is a little strained, but to appreciate what this is and how it succeeds. (And is smart enough to stop before the baby arrives, because who wants to see that part of their life?)
As squirmy but sweet comedy goes, no one does it better right now than Apatow and his repertory.