In writer/director Judd Apatow’s raunchy follow-up to The 40-Year-Old Virgin, bong-hitting slacker Ben Stone (played by Seth Rogen, a borscht belt cross between Albert Brooks and Jimmy Kimmel) somehow scores a drunken one-night stand with Alison Scott, an ambitious E! red-carpet interviewer. They couldn’t be more mismatched. But she ends up pregnant, thrusting them back together for nine months of personal growth and indecent comedy.
The couple’s noble decision to work at their relationship and embrace parenthood has its challenges. Ben, accustomed to spending untold hours getting high and goofing off with his rudderless pals, needs a major dose of maturity and ambition. Alison lives with her sister’s family (Debbie, Pete and their two daughters), giving her daily, sometimes scary examples of what lies around the corner.
While a few characters suggest that abortion might be the couple’s best option, Alison decides to have the baby regardless of how pregnancy might threaten her figure or career. Without getting on a soapbox, the film comes off as pro-life. A doctor points out the baby’s heartbeat in an eighth-week ultrasound image, and similar womb shots are used throughout to mark the passage of time. During the closing credits, viewers see the child and her parents still together and enjoying family life. Even Alison’s mom, who advised her to abort and someday have a “real baby,” seems blessed by the bundle of joy she would have destroyed.
Pete is a loving, playful dad to his two young daughters. Ben, despite lacking certain skills and experience, is a game playmate for Pete’s girls, and has a tender heart beneath his gruff exterior. Men talk about being able to accept love. Debbie grapples with aging, expressing emotional needs shared by countless women at her station of life.
A poignant moment occurs when Ben, at a crossroads, desperately needs black-and-white advice from his affectionate-yet-liberal dad, who has nothing to offer. On the verge of tears Ben pleads, “Tell me what to do.” It’s a powerful example of what happens when fathers fail to be strong, moral role models. Fortunately, Ben summons the courage to put aside selfish things and do what’s right.
Guys take pride in their Jewish heritage, though they’re far from religious about it.
Sex is depicted as nothing more than a casual recreational activity. Alison and Ben sleep together several times. They aren’t shown nude, but those scenes are extended, loud and explicit. Shots of bare-breasted women appear throughout, including a lesbian make-out scene and strippers giving Ben and Pete lap dances.
Ben and his buddies are busy developing “Flesh of the Stars,” a Web site that tells users precisely where in movies their favorite celebrities bare all. Alison helps Ben do “research” at one point, excitedly calling out full frontal nudity.
Vile humor involves all sorts of sexual and anatomical content. Jokes revolve around fellatio, herpes, erections, unconventional sex and autoerotic asphyxiation. Debbie describes her husband’s masturbatory habits. Pete admits that he married Debbie after she got pregnant. The couple studies a map of the sex offenders living in their neighborhood, which indicates that they may outnumber fire hydrants.
The camera offers glimpses of a crowning baby starting to exit Alison’s vagina as one onlooker makes a crude sexual comment.
A 7-year-old girl describes Googling “murder” and finding bloody pictures of dead bodies. Later, her misunderstanding about where babies come from sounds like something out of a zombie horror movie.
Nonstop sexual commentary and anatomical slang are extremely crass, and further aggravated by a dozen blasphemies, more than 40 s-words and 120 f-words. There’s also an obscene gesture. Audiences get showered by other profanities as well, several spoken by young children.
Ben and his slacker buddies are stoners frequently shown drinking beer, smoking joints or taking bong hits. Their creative tools, such as a gas mask used to keep smoke in, are played for laughs. Weed is prescribed for a hangover (“It’s the best medicine. It fixes everything”). Ben’s dad endorses his son’s pot-smoking, advising him only to avoid pills.
During a what-happens-in-Vegas-stays-in-Vegas excursion, Ben and Pete mix alcohol and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Characters joke about smoking crack and giving kids meth.
Alcohol is consumed at bars and clubs. Couples drink wine and liquor. Ben and Alison get blitzed and end up in bed. (The next morning he can’t even remember having had sex.) Before a night of clubbing, Debbie announces, “I’ve had about three Red Bulls in the last 15 minutes.”
Stunts begging to be imitated by bored adolescents include boxing with gloves that have been set on fire. Some Farrelly brothers-style humor—most notably a mean-spirited Stephen Hawking impression—is in remarkably poor taste. Guys discuss intentionally passing gas on each other’s pillows to spread pink eye. Jokes refer to defecation.
Debbie flirts to feel attractive, and tells her sister that the key to marriage is beating a partner into emotional submission (she berates Pete, publicly). Pete is equally down on the institution at times, telling Ben, “Marriage is like an unfunny, tense version of Everybody Loves Raymond. But it doesn’t last 22 minutes; it lasts forever.” He lies to Debbie to sneak out with the guys.
They could’ve called this comedy One Crazy Night or We’re Having a Baby. But Knocked Up, while abrasive, is actually more fitting—a shot across the bow preparing audiences for the level of offensive content they’ll encounter. A cavalier attitude toward casual sex is just the beginning. From turning intercourse into a spectator sport to glamorizing drug use to showcasing gratuitous female nudity and 120 f-words, Apatow takes full advantage of the R rating.
A few warm moments and pearls of wisdom about valuing life and family, and accepting responsibility are great. But vile humor begins at conception and remains part of the film’s DNA. That turns Knocked Up into comedic porn … with a message.