Boys will be boys, and so will men, given half the chance, which is why writer-director Judd Apatow will never be out of a job. Apatow, who got the auteur-on-the-rise treatment from The New York Times Magazine a couple of weeks ago, is the guy who nailed high school in television's Freaks and Geeks, then nailed college in television's Undeclared. But neither show was able to find much of an audience, so Apatow came up with The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a movie about a middle-aged man who'd never gotten around to getting laid. It, too, was a coming-of-age story, as is Knocked Up, Apatow's latest. This time, getting laid isn't the problem, though. Dealing with the consequences of getting laid is. To become a parent, you have to stop acting like a child. And for the hero of our little morality tale, that's almost inconceivable.
Meet Ben Stone, whose very name suggests that he's "been stoned" for as long as he can remember, which isn't all that long. As played by Seth Rogen, who's had supporting roles in all of Apatow's other projects, Ben is the kind of guy who'd rather hang out with the guys than, say, get a job. And the guys, also played by Apatow alumni, are the kind of guys who'd rather start a Web site called fleshofthestars.com - minute-by-minute listings of the sex scenes in movies - than, say, get a job. Over the opening credits, these very special Olympians engage in a veritable decathlon of bong-related sporting events. And the casual drug use, after so many years of "Just Say No," is rather refreshing. But Ben, for one, is about to get "knocked up" the side of the head. Alison (Katherine Heigl from Grey's Anatomy), the woman he slept with eight weeks ago, just failed a pregnancy test.
When it comes to statuesque blonds, Charlize Theron has nothing on Heigl, and Knocked Up quickly takes shape as a stoner version of Beauty and the Beast. But I'd be lying if I said I bought these two as a couple for even a second. I know, that's the whole point, but Rogen and Heigl never really get anything going between them - those little moments that Shrek and Fiona toss off so effortlessly. She's from Venus, he's from Pluto, and never the twain shall meet. But Apatow compensates for their lack of chemistry with dialogue so fresh and raw and funny it sounds like Shakespeare as rewritten by the Farrelly brothers. "I just yakked," Ben tells Alison after their drunken one-night-stand - a lovely term for a stomach convulsion that prefigures Alison's own bout with morning sickness a couple of scenes later. And there's more where that came from: man boobs, chesticles, etc.
Luckily, the writing isn't just funny words, it's also funny ideas, the humor often laced with resentment. Apatow's real-life wife, Leslie Mann, plays Alison's sister, Jane, a woman who's grown so bitter about her marriage that she erupts in these operatic arias of bitterness. And if Mann weren't such a skilled comedian, they might seem a little shrill. But she's like a younger Madeline Kahn - wacky, yet scary, yet sexy. Paul Rudd plays her husband, a seemingly nice guy who may have checked out of his family life without actually punching a time card. And Ben, when he sees these two in action, is ready to crawl back in his crib and go to bed. I wish I could say that Rogen has what it takes to pull off this role, but with his fuzzy-wuzzy hair and Fozzie the Bear voice - he always sounds like he's gargling - he may not be leading-man material. I know, I know, that's the whole point, but still....