June 5, 2007
A recent New York Times Magazine profile of writer-director-producer Judd Apatow contained this intriguing assertion:
Both of the films Apatow has directed offer up the kind of conservative morals the Family Research Council might embrace -- if the humor weren't so filthy.
As the (unofficial) movie critic for FRC I decided to put that claim to the test by screening Apatow's latest film. The verdict: Knocked Up offers up the kind of conservative morals the Family Research Council might embrace -- if the humor weren't so filthy.
The story centers around the relationship between Ben Stone, a schlubby unemployed stoner, who meets rising TV personality Alison Scott in a bar. After getting drunk the pair stumble into an awkward one night stand. Eight weeks later, Ben is shocked when Alison meets him and reveals that she is pregnant. Despite having little in common, the two decide that they have to at least try to make some kind of relationship work for the baby's sake.
It's that twist that makes Knocked Up one of the most pro-life, pro-family film I've seen in years -- and thats including what passes for "Christian" films. Unfortunately, it is also the filthiest family-oriented film I've ever seen. This is a family movie that I can't recommend for families.
Still, while the ends can't justify the means, it is worthy wading through the crudity to examine the message being presented.
One of the most striking aspects of the film is the use of language. Throughout the film, the obscenities flow freely, yet there is one word too obscene even for these foul-mouthed characters: abortion. When Ben tells his roommates about the pregnancy his buddy Jonah suggests that Alison get a procedure that, he says, "rhymes with 'shmashmortion'." He's quickly condemned as a "monster" by another roommate for even suggesting such an inhuman action.
The only other person to hint that Alison should kill the child is her horrible mother who tells her to wait till she's ready to have a "real baby." As Ross Douthat observes, "Knocked Up is almost naively pro-life: Of course Alison decided to 'keep' the baby, the script suggests, because killing it would be terribly and obviously wrong, and she's not a bad person."
Another old-fashioned value supported by the film is marriage. Allison's sister Debbie (Apatow's own remarkable wife Leslie Mann) and brother-in-law Pete (the understated Paul Rudd) got married because they got "knocked up" and...well, that's just what people do, so the movie implies, when they find themselves with child.
As Allison and Ben attempt to reconcile their imperfections (well, Ben's imperfections) with that ideal, Debbie and Pete reveal how the ideal isn't always so ideal. (Apatow, Mann, and Rudd deserve praise for making this sub-plot compelling enough to be its own movie.) In fact, the character of Pete reveals the key to understanding the movie.
When Ben and Allison drunkenly stumble into bed together, he blurts an epiphanic understatement: "Youre prettier than I am." Indeed, Allison is not only prettier, she's smarter, and nicer, and cleaner, and...so far out of Ben's league that it makes it nearly impossible to suspend disbelief when she confesses her love. Sure, women like losers. But unless Allison has been drained of self-respect and self-esteem, there is no way she could fall in love with such an absolute and total loser.
But a scene later in the second half of the film puts the bizarre romance in perspective. After tiffs with their women, Ben and Paul flee to Las Vegas where they binge on hallucinogenic mushrooms and watch Cirque de Soleil. In his drug-induced stupor Paul has a moment of clarity, admitting that his wife's desire to always be in his presence scares him to death: "I don't think I can accept pure love."
Pure love, Apatow seems to be saying, is what comes with having a family. And we men don't deserve it. While we may not be flat-busted, overweight, unemployed stoners, when it comes to pure love we aren't any more worthy than Ben. We dont deserve anything so wonderful as a wife much less the miracle of a baby. So if by some stroke of fate/luck/providence we find these blessings in our life we must to do whatever it takes to keep them. We may be losers but we don't have to be fools.
Knocked Up definitely isn't a film I can embrace. The humor is indeed too filthy. But any film that has such a powerful pro-family message deserves at least a pat on the back.