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MiraJeff's Been KNOCKED UP!!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. I am dying to see this one, and it slays me that they’re already testing a film that we won’t see until June of next year. I believe in the test-screening process for comedies, though, and it sounds like Judd Apatow wants to really polish this one up. When I was talking to Shauna Robertson on the set of SUPER BAD, she told me that they plan to test several versions of this film with very different material in each of the screenings so they can see what plays best with audiences. They shot so much extra material that they’re going to be able to eventually release a DVD that will randomly drop new jokes into the film all the way through with a “Randomizer” that Judd told me about when I was on the KNOCKED UP set. So which version did our MiraJeff see? And did he like it? Let’s read and find out. Just be warned... he peppers his review with some pretty hefty spoilers in a few places.

Greetings AICN, MiraJeff here with what is most likely the most important review I've ever written. You know, if I could change places with anyone in the world for one day, it'd probably be George Clooney, the single coolest guy on Earth. Runner-up would be Tony Parker, and not because of Eva Longoria, but because I'd want to talk trash in French while running the point. However, I would probably be uncomfortable in either of their shoes, and not just because TP is probably a size 15, but because they both get too much attention. Which bring us to the third guy on the list, a guy who doesn’t get enough attention, the funniest guy alive right now, Mr. Judd Apatow. Judd Apatow is my George Lucas, no joke. In fact, I think that's an understatement, considering I don't really like George Lucas, although I realize that most of AICN's readers consider him a bearded deity. Well, Judd Apatow is my bearded deity, if you will. And The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Super Bad will comprise my holy trilogy. Yes, I know that Apatow is only producing the latter, but for the purposes of this analogy, Super Bad will have to do, since Apatow's success is explicitly tied to that film's co-writer and the star of Knocked Up, Mr. Seth Rogen. If there were one dude in Hollywood whose assistant I would kill to be, it would be Rogen, the rotund (in a good way) veteran of Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared who owes his career to Apatow and F&G creator Paul Feig. Rogen carries Knocked Up with an effortless performance that is likely the most accurate portrayal of twenty-something malaise ever depicted on screen. His character, Ben Stone, is charming but goofy, masculine but sympathetic, painfully self-aware but not afraid to let it all hang out there. As simplistic as Ben’s life seems, he’s a complex character and Rogen does more than just make it his own, he elevates Ben from a cinematic creation to a bonafide human being with anxieties and neuroses, a guy who says the wrong thing sometimes but means well in his heart. It’s an easy character to play the wrong way but Rogen provides him with just the right mix of likable qualities and questionable decisions, and in the process, makes him easy to empathize with and understand why he made those decisions in the first place. But let’s backtrack for a moment. I was all set to see Apocalypto with a very attractive girl I met at the pool in my apartment complex and I haven't been on a proper date in the six months since I touched down in Los Angeles. Apparently women don't want to be seen in public with lowly assistants and even lower interns, go figure. I figured we'd take in some dinner at the Grove’s Cheesecake Factory before heading on over to Westwood to watch Mayan civilization come to a violent end. Real romantic, I know. So a few hours before I was supposed to embark on this landmark journey, I got a call from a buddy of mine with passes to see Knocked Up in Burbank. The second after he said the word "Up" the decision was made. I was down to see it, and hopefully my date would be up for it too. Alas, she got stuck in some brutal traffic and couldn't make it. When I finally arrived at the theater, she called to apologize and being the gentleman that I am, half-heartedly offered to drive back and meet her in Westwood for the Apocalypto screening, as originally planned. Fortunately, she insisted I stay (although that was never really in doubt), and God bless her for it, because simply put, Knocked Up knocked me right the fuck out. Few filmmakers have the ability to make movies with the 2 H's, hilarity and heart. John Hughes comes to mind first and foremost. A few other specific examples stand out, like Angus, The Girl Next Door, Clerks 2 and Revenge of the Nerds. Of course, that could be because I have soft spots for fat teenagers, porn stars, donkey shows and the music of Queen but anyways… luckily for me and the rest of the members of the audience, Judd Apatow is one of these truly talented filmmakers who quite frankly, "gets it." He makes films for the intelligent viewer, which is to say, he does not make empty, soulless crap like Old School. His movies aren’t about caricatures; they’re about people with real problems. For instance, being a 40 year-old dude who still hasn’t lost his virginity is a problem. Not one I can relate to, but still, a significant problem and one that can be universally understood by audiences of all genders, races, and religions. You don’t have to be in on the joke to laugh at a Judd Apatow movie. So while I thought The 40 Year-Old Virgin was the best comedy of last year, I have to say, Knocked Up might even be better, at least for a semi-attractive twenty-something like myself. That’s because Ben Stone, the character played by Seth Rogen, experiences my greatest hopes and fears over the course of one wild, drunken night. He’s at a bar, trying to get the ‘tender’s attention but the guy’s a total douche. Enter Alison Scott (the gorgeous Katherine Heigl), a newly promoted on-air correspondent for E! She’s out celebrating with her older sister Debbie (Apatow’s angelic wife, Leslie Mann) and strikes up conversation with Ben as they endlessly wait for a couple of beers. Impatient and in the mood to impress, Ben reaches over the bar, grabs a pair of bottles and leaves the guy a nice tip for his “troubles.” Alison thanks him and goes back to her sister, but Ben isn’t quite ready to give up yet. Spurred by his wingman Jason Segel, he approaches Alison as unintimidated as he can and the two hit it off. Debbie gets a phone call that one of her kids might have chicken pox and so ends the night for the most delicious MILF since Beverly D’Angelo in those Vacation movies. Alison tells her she’ll find a ride home, which in essence means she’s going to make Ben the luckiest bastard this side of the equator. Drunken fumblings ensue, condoms don’t quite make it onto Stone’s boner and the rest, as they say, is history. Not only does Ben get to bang a girl who is way out of his league, a conquest I can only aspire to one day, but he also knocks her up, a nightmare that lingers in the back of every guy’s mind as the throes of passion draw to a close. Of course he doesn’t find this out until several weeks later when Alison tells him she’s pregnant after experiencing some morning sickness in the middle of an interview with Jude Law. The rest of the movie follows Ben and Alison as they try their relationship out for size. At first their getting-to-know-you shtick fails miserably, as Ben takes some warming up to. Besides being barely more than a functional stoner, the guy still lives off a $14,000 legal settlement that he won in high school after being partially run over by a truck or something. He’s got $900 left to his name which he thinks should last him two years. Oh, and his future job prospects include devoting all his time and energy to a celebrity-skin website he plans to run with his brain-dead friends (Segal, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Martin Starr, Charlyne Yi). I guess these guys subscribe to the Cosmo Kramer School of Business, because they eventually learn that a website already exists that does the exact same thing. Anyone who’s ever googled “celeb porn” could’ve told these chuckleheads that. So… when Alison decides to keep the baby, things get a tad more serious, and the necessary commitment is paralleled by Debbie’s relationship with her overgrown-child-of-a-husband Pete (Paul Rudd). Good men, as we all know, are hard to find. We need to be tamed and trained so we can be presentable in public and eventually become respected members of our community. Debbie thinks Pete is cheating on her because he’s a music executive who is always running out late at night to “concerts.” Debbie is a bitter control-freak and that’s why as much as he loves her, Pete just needs some time to himself every once in a while. This opens up a whole ‘nother can of worms I’m not going to get into, but needless to say, it’s hilarious while also really saying something about modern marriage and the family dynamic. The rest of the movie finds Ben struggling to come to terms with reality, impending fatherhood, and the responsibilities that entails. He tries going to his father (Harold Ramis) for advice but he’s been divorced three times and probably isn’t in any position to be dispensing lessons in love. His buddies mean well but clearly they’re not the people who can help him. And while he forms a unique and strangely compelling bond with Pete, he has his own problems to worry about. In time, Ben learns that the only person who can help him is himself, and thus he goes about getting his life together. To say any more would be spoiling some pretty funny shit, but let me give you a sampling of the many likes and few dislikes: What I liked: 1. The beginning- The Universal logo comes up over a familiar piano beat and then we hear “Oooh baby I like it raw, yeah baby I like it rawww… Shimmy shimmy ya shimmy yeah shimmy yay!” Nothing like some ODB to kick-start a raucous comedy with a valuable social message (WEAR A CONDOM). We see what looks to be a very natural home video of Rogen and his friends fucking around, getting drunk, throwing each other in the pool, and taking massive bong hits through a gas mask. At first I didn’t know if this unconventional approach worked better than a carefully choreographed opening sequence, like The 40 Year-Old Virgin’s morning-wood enhanced exercise routine, but in hindsight I think it worked beautifully, as it really introduced us to this group of friends and set up their carefree lifestyle early. Ben is a guy with little or no responsibility and this opening montage illustrates that. It makes us question whether he’s really ready for fatherhood or not, a dilemma we know is coming thanks to the title. Later in the film, Ben brings up male camaraderie, and the opening sequence really shows us how important that is to him. It sets up the world these characters inhabit quite nicely, and sets us down right smack in the middle of their yet-to-fully-mature lifestyle. We see Ben is very comfortable, maybe a little too comfortable, having absolutely no responsibility at all, and we know he’s in for a rude awakening when the real world makes a stop at his door. 2. The References- Shortly after the introductory montage there’s a conversation about Munich and how much Ben and his fellow Jewish friends loved watching Spielberg turn the tables and have Jews kicking major ass. It seems everyone is Jewish except for Starr, which is odd considering someone in the film later calls him Matisyahu thanks to his unsightly beard, which is a recurring joke that works pretty much every time. I recall one burn along the lines of “Your face looks like a vagina,” and a Cat Stevens line. A lot of Apatow’s humor is grounded in pop culture references, which means he milks the website gag for all its worth. Just seeing glimpses of Neve Campbell and Denise Richards’ lesbo scene from Wild Things makes my boxers cramped. Also, almost every male character in the movie at some point announces that they are going to see Spiderman 3, a curious inclusion considering different studios are responsible, but hey, you can’t put a studio label on geek love, right? 3. The buddies- Baruchel is in fine form as his awkward lanky self, only this time, he sports a backwoods faux-hawk that makes it look like Michael J. Fox cut his hair. Low blow, sorry A.P. Keaton. Jason Segel gives sleaze a good name with his constantly unsubtle hitting on of Debbie. Jonah Hill, who made a memorable appearance in Virgin as the glitter boots kid, and absolutely ruled in the criminally underrated Grandma’s Boy, is again hilarious as the best friend who just wants what’s best for Ben. Charlyne Yi elicits a few chuckles as the lone female stoner in the group. 4. The cameos- Wow, where do I start? Let’s start with Judd trying to sneak one past the audience. He makes a Hitchcockian cameo in the background on TV in the E! executive’s office, being interviewed on the red carpet. Didn’t think we’d see that one did you Judd, you cheeky monkey you. We get Paul Feig, wearing the Paul Feig superhero suit and tie, as a member of Pete’s Fantasy Baseball league. Priceless. There’s Steve Carell playing himself in a classic scene with Alison on a red carpet. Having worked red carpets (they’re a nightmare) and tried desperately to get a usable sound-byte from A-list stars who don’t want to be there, I can totally relate to Alison’s verbal attack on Carell, whose response is pretty damn realistic, and funny to boot. We also get the one and only Jude Law, who I’m glad to see doesn’t take himself too seriously, and Ryan Seacrest performing a self-deprecating rant that shows him unlike you’ve seen him before, trust me. 5. Individual Set Pieces- Namely, the birthing scene, which for you parents out there, shows the baby “crowning.” This is the most graphic visual gag I’ve seen since Aunt Magda bared her breasts in There’s Something About Mary. Cringe-inducing and absolutely hilarious, I dare you to go home after seeing it and think about vagina in the same way. It almost looks like the talking vagina skit on Damon Wayans’ awful Showtime show, The Underground. There’s also a great scene involving Debbie and a bouncer trading some pretty insulting barbs before the bouncer reveals his true feelings towards his job. The writing in this scene is damn near perfect, and puts a nice twist on “the bouncer scene” that we’ve seen before in other comedies. There’s also a very natural dinner scene with Ben, Alison, Deb and Pete discussing “what ifs,” a conversation that never ends well if you’re a guy. Seriously, don’t play the “what if” game with your girlfriend, ever. You will not get any that night, I promise you. Lastly, just about everything involving the E! executive and his jealous, bitter assistant or lower ranking exec or whoever she is, is comic gold, if only because in my experiences thus far in “the industry,” that is exactly how everyone thinks. Oh, and real quick, I loved the very small moment when Alison takes Ben’s hand as they shop for baby cribs. Just a very real, genuinely touching gesture that I’m glad Apatow captured on film. What I Didn’t Like: Not much. I had read a review that mentioned a discussion of Julianne Moore’s pubes in Boogie Nights, but unfortunately, from what I remember, that was missing from this print. There was the inclusion of Bright Eyes on the soundtrack, and while the lyrics were certainly appropriate, I think Judd could pick a better song. Bright Eyes, while good, is too whiny for a fun movie like this. And sadly, I have to say, if there’s one scene that felt out of place, it’s the Cirque Du Soleil scene where Ben and Pete trip on shrooms. I’m a huge fan of shrooms (take my word for it) and shroom-related humor, but it’s always tough to pull off onscreen, especially without any crazy visuals to aid the experience. There are some crazy close-ups meant to convey the heightened wackiness of their trip but it just didn’t feel believable. That earlier review I had read mentioned the fact that the film is considerably overlong and right now I’m afraid I would agree, it can definitely use some “tightening,” as Alison’s boss might put it. And frankly, the mushroom scene is the first thing to go, although I understand that it’s important for Ben to get pissed at Pete for spilling the beans during his daughter’s birthday party. The thing is, I love their conversation in the hotel room while they’re tripping, with Pete jumping from chair to chair in search of a better energy, I just don’t need to see them at Cirque Du Soleil. Overall, these are minor criticisms that Apatow will have plenty of time to deal with should he feel the need to shorten the film’s running time. Just remember, I really think that overstaying your welcome is the worst thing a comedy can do. Everyone should take a lesson from Wedding Crashers. Now before we wrap this thing up, there was a VIP section taped off in the theater and Apatow’s crew was there representing in spades. Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Undeclared’s Timm Sharp and Loudon Wainwright III were all in attendance. The lights went down and on a dare (not really though) I yelled “Rogen Rules,” because well, he does and I wanted him to make sure he knew it. This got some laughs from the special section, so after the movie I approached Rogen and congratulated him on a job well done. I told him that his performance really impressed the hell out of me and that his screenplay, co-written by Evan Goldberg, was awesome. Of course, I made a fool out of myself because they didn’t write the movie, Apatow did (they wrote Super Bad) but Rogen graciously accepted and turned down the opportunity to embarrass my know-it-all ass by correcting me. What a stand-up guy, folks! So to recap, Knocked Up is the shit and everyone should do themselves a favor and see it when it comes out in 6-9 months, natch! Meanwhile, The Rogen will return on October 12 when Super Bad gets released. That’ll do it for me, folks. I hope you’ve enjoyed this comprehensive review of Knocked Up, and hopefully I didn’t spoil things too badly. You can email your thoughts and prayers to I’ll be back soon with a much shorter review of Notes On a Scandal and maybe a couple peeks at the latest from the Brothers Warner, Blood Diamond and The Good German. ‘Til next time, this is MiraJeff signing off…
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