Seeing Knocked Up hyped as a sleeper hit had an obvious effect. The movie opened and made serious bank. All the alternative-fare talk was just a deceitful way of creating anticipation for a blockbuster.
Were Judd Apatow's comedy not another all-white Middle America take on a couple's compatibility, this might mean something. Knocked Up is sharp and funny enough that it rises above every similarly focused romantic comedy since 2005. It knows how to play this game well, but it's still just a very good example of a genre staple. The hype worked because Knocked Up is a safe bet.
Its best and worst attribute is how nice it is. Stoner-slacker Ben Stone (Seth Rogan) impregnates E! Entertainment journalist Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) during a one night stand—a new angle to set up an odd-couple sitcom. Apatow never lets the prospect of abortion seriously enter the picture. Alison and Ben struggle for compatibility despite the enormous distance between them. It's easy to see how Ben, who's crass and unemployed but is developing a website to document the timecodes where nudity appears in films, would be excited by successful Ms. Thang entering his life. Despite the film's marketing to a female audience, it's about male wish-fulfillment. From Ben's perspective, he gets to be with a hot girl by getting her pregnant.
As in Apatow's likable and equally safe The 40-Year-Old Virgin, the situation is never confronted on the lines of societal mores vs. peoples' differing social ethics. Alison's acceptance of Ben is defiant, but the movie doesn't let her express that defiance.
Within this limited sitcom perspective, Apatow manages to make Knocked Up inclusive and sincere. He takes it for granted that characters can date outside of their quota, even if it isn't a basis for a rags-to-riches Cinderella story. The film's warmth is what dignifies its shortcuts.
Knocked Up's one truly admirable risk is in not making Ben the sort of enviable, cool slob that Jack Black often plays. Rogan's assured performance treats the character as well-meaning but neither particularly bright nor charming. Even Ben's sense of humour is off. Apatow counts on us to like him, as Alison can, because he's a good person. Alison's assertion that she's starting to love him may lack real justification. But in the very sealed-off world of romantic comedies, this is definite progress.
Rise: Blood Hunter
I was the only one in attendance at a Saturday matinee of Rise: Blood Hunter. This may not be the optimal time of day to watch a vampire film, but for a movie with a specific audience, the turnout was curious. The target goths didn't give a shit.
Rise has LA Weekly reporter Sadie (Lucy Liu) bitten by a vampire while working on a story. Rather than giving in to the undead lifestyle, she gets mad —vowing to destroy those who did this to her, and vampires in general. It's a cross between Blade and The Crow, but writer-director Sebastian Gutierrez is better at making his demons seem like they're at a dinner party than making things manic and beautiful.
Liu is always a game actor. It's just that the rarity of a non-white goth figure is wasted on a movie without much else of distinction. This is even the case with a supporting cast—Robert Forster, Michael Chiklis, Marilyn Manson, Nick Lachey—that seems chosen for novelty value.
Rise is middling, but not by doing things the wrong way. It's not wild enough.
For more of Mark’s thoughts on Knocked Up, check out the man's blog: www.markpalermo.blogspot.com. To add your own, write: firstname.lastname@example.org