A romantic comedy is, in effect, a comedy that is romantic. Unfortunately, Judd Apatow’s overlong and unnecessarily indulgent Knocked Up is neither romantic, nor particularly a comedy. It does have funny moments, of course, and there are a few well-thought-out jokes that get a good laugh, but it is not really a comedy. Instead, Knocked Up is a drama about a slacker accidentally getting a woman pregnant and then having to rise to the challenge of becoming a father.
The film begins with and to some degree focuses upon the female lead, played by Katherine Heigl. She puts in the effort, but a lack of range makes Heigl’s character seem wooden. I think the writing is also at fault here, as I don’t want to blame Heigl for playing a two-dimensional character when that is exactly how her character is written. She is a career-focused woman, but other than that her personality is undefined, leaving Heigl lost in the tide of the male-heavy script.
Despite Heigl’s character being the initial focus, and the lead for the first half of the film, this is not a film about her at all. Seth Rogen plays the slacker who knocks her up, and really he is the lead here, with Heigl in a supporting role akin to his slacker friends. In fact, Heigl’s sister, played by Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, gets a better-written character, yet her on-screen husband, played by Paul Rudd, gets considerably more screen time and much more of a character arc than Heigl and Mann combined.
Knocked Up is the story of a man-child going from boy to man when faced with unexpected responsibility, through the fairly obvious and routine seven stages of grief as he mourns his single slacker life. Upon discovering Heigl is pregnant, Rogen goes from denial to guilt, then anger, through depression, to an upward turn, reconstruction, and finally acceptance. The real question that should be asked is not whether this is a good structure for a film, but whether we really need yet another film about a man growing up when really it is Heigl’s character that faces the greatest struggle here. Rogen simply needs to take responsibility for his actions, whereas Heigl is faced with her entire life plan being altered just when she is getting her career as a media personality on track. She appears by far the more interesting character of the two, but by focusing on Rogen’s slacker Apatow shies away from what could have been an interesting and profound comedic drama.
The other issue with this film, and for me the more problematic, was the act of getting pregnant itself. Rogen is struggling to put a condom on, and in a moment of “hilarious” misunderstanding, Heigl demands he hurry up, which he mistakes for forgoing the condom altogether. This, technically, is an act of sexual assault, as Heigl does not consent to the condom being removed. Playing it for laughs, then dismissing it after a minor argument when the pregnancy is discovered, feels cheap. Worse, it makes the whole film sordid, and spoils any positivity that may come out of it.
Overall, Knocked Up is too long, too meandering, and too unsure of what it is about and what story it is trying to tell to be any good. It is a by-product of Apatow’s previous success with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, where he has been given more money and less oversight. The result is an indulgence, not a success. It had so much potential, but much like Rogen’s stoner, it is mostly wasted.