Saturday, July 07, 2007

Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up"

I wish I could jump on the bandwagon of critics who have been tripping over their own feet in an effort to out-praise each other when it comes to Judd Apatow and his critical darling, “Knocked Up,” and it’s not as if I haven’t tried. But I just don’t get it.

From where I sit, “Knocked Up,” Apatow’s sophomore effort as a director, is a modest, companionable, surprisingly endearing little film. No more, no less. I saw it, enjoyed it and and then got on with my life, letting the film evaporate from the recesses of my mind. At this point, it’s a dim memory, unlike Apatow’s first film, 2006’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” which still echoes in my mind with it low comedy and big heart.

It’s apparent – to me, at least - that Apatow was aiming for the same results and, to be honest, he nearly matches his first success. But “Knocked Up” is more raunchy and less poignant than it’s predecessor. In fact, it isn’t touching at all. It also has a leading man, Seth Rogan, who is a good deal less appealing and charismatic than “Virgin’s” Steve Carell, and at 129 minutes, there’s a certain straining here and a lot of dead spots.

But for some reason, the critics have felt obliged to exalt Apatow. The very credible Andrew Sarris actually compared him to Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder in his review in The New York Observer. I realize that anyone who cares about the future of movies – critics, film buffs, even studio executives - is desperate to find a new filmic hero, someone with all the answers and remedies for what ails current movies, but isn’t it a tad premature and hasty to elevate Apatow after only two films?

Not that “Knocked Up” doesn’t have its excellent spots, chief of which is Katharine Heigl, who turns in an empathetic, fully formed performance as the female lead.

As for the material here – about a guy forced into maturity by a woman’s unexpected pregnancy - I preferred it back in 1963 when Robert Mulligan directed Natalie Wood and Steve McQueen in “Love with the Proper Stranger,” a more naturalistic, affecting treatment of the subject which is often even more witty than “Knocked Up.”

(Artwork: Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in "Knocked Up"; Poster art for "Love with the Proper Stranger")

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Anyone interested in perusing some 2060 of my film reviews, dating back to 1994, can do so by simply going to RottenTomatoes.Com

3 comments:

Dave P. said...

Jesus, Preston Sturges!? That may be one of the grossest overstatements I've heard in some time. What's next, Lubitsch? We truly are in dark times when standard commercial fare like this gets such acclaim.

jbryant said...

I loved "Knocked Up." The only film this year I've paid to see twice. "Overrated?" I dunno -- are all the folks who like it suffering from some mass delusion? If so, is it the flip side of the same delusion that caused most of us to loathe ("underrate?") "Norbit," a film championed elsewhere on this site? Actually, I thought most reviews of "Knocked Up"(raves included) expressed a caveat or two. Anyway, it made me laugh a lot, and its insights about relationships felt true, if exaggerated for comic effect. I don't see Sturges or Wilder in Apatow as much as maybe Leo McCarey, whose semi-improv style of human comedy seems like a more apt point of reference.

and dave p. - hyperbole much? :) I should think the success of a fairly low-key comedy that's all about character would be seen as a good thing, even if didn't work for you. Also, many films now considered timeless masterpieces started life as yesterday's "standard commercial fare." Not saying "Knocked Up" will someday be ranked alongside "The Awful Truth," 'cause such predictions are pointless. But I sure like it right now.

joe baltake said...

jbryant-

I'm clearly in the minority on both "Knocked Up" and "Norbit." However, I hasten to note that I did not dislike "Knocked Up." I actually like it - a lot - I just think it's been overrated. Just as "Norbit" has been seriously underrated. But that's modern criticism for you - always in the extreme. There are never any gray reviews anymore, only black and white - either extreme raves or extreme pans. That's one reason I got out of the business. I sensed myself falling prey to those tendencies.