I’ve had a little trouble warming to Katherine Heigl as an actress in the past, so I decided to make the effort to watch more of her movies, in an effort to understand her appeal… and Knocked Up (2007) definitely seems to have done the trick for me!
For those who don’t know, this foul-mouthed, dirty-minded rom-com stars Seth Rogen as ‘Ben Stone’, a slack, pot-smoking thirty-something, who somehow manages to charm/luck his way into a boozy one-night stand with ‘Alison Scott’ (Heigl), a go-getting journalism major who has just scored an on-air presenting gig on E! (the cable channel, not the drug). A drunken misunderstanding results in the horny couple having unprotected sex, before parting ways the next day, when Alison sobers up and realises what a loser Ben really is. Apparently his sperm are pretty pro-active though, because a few weeks later the morning sickness kicks in, and Alison is forced to give her baby-daddy a second chance, for the sake of their unborn child.
Although it scored quite highly with most contemporary critics, the movie also picked up some rather negative press when several dissenters, including the lead actress herself, suggested that it might be “a little sexist”. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Heigl noted that the movie “paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.” Which, to my mind, is a pretty undeniable charge… and I think it mostly comes down to the fact that the male characters vastly outnumber the female characters. I mean, essentially womankind is being represented solely by Alison and her sister ‘Debbie’ (played by writer/director Judd Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann), while mankind is being represented by Debbie’s husband ‘Pete’ (Paul Rudd), and Ben’s posse of wacky stoner pals, played by Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, and Martin Starr. So the deck is already stacked in the guy’s favour, as far as depicting a variety of characters and personality types is concerned. Alison and Debbie are never given any female friends to mellow out with, and the only other characters they seem to come into contact with are overt antagonists such as disapproving parents, incompetent doctors, insensitive bosses, ageist doormen, and their clueless partners. I don’t think the female characters here are “shrews” per se, it’s just that they’re constantly being put into aggravating situations, so we rarely get to see them at their ease. It probably doesn’t help that (as far as I can tell from the commentary and behind-the-scenes stuff) Mann likes to work out a lot of anger on-screen… that seems to be her choice as an actress… and Alison is supposed to be hormonal, so a lot of her shoutiness is an unfortunate side-effect of the pregnancy itself, if you see what I mean. My point is that I don’t believe Apatow set out with the conscious intention to suggest that all women are shrews… he was just too busy endulging his bros to pay attention to how he was representing (or under-representing) his, er, sises.
The irony is I actually found Alison quite a sympathetic character and really enjoyed Heigl’s performance here… I thought she was funny, engaging, and totally committed… not to mention gorgeous, of course. The plethora of extras on the fancy two-disc edition I picked up also prove what a good sport she is, sitting through endless hours of off-script improv, as well as various fake takes for a documentary about the many alternative actors who supposedly tried out for the role of Ben (including Michael Cera, bless him). Mann also put in a solid performance, but came off as far less sympathetic when raging against The Rudd. He’s just so damn charming that even when he’s being a total a-hole, you can’t help kinda liking him. Damn that boyish smile of his! Oh, and there’s a typically hilarious cameo by Kristen Wiig as ‘Jill’, a tightly wound little bundle of negativity, who works at E!.
I found the movie very funny in parts, but I don’t really have any interest in the topic of parenthood/pregnancy, and the central relationships were all a little too rambling, raw and unromantic for my tastes… so overall, I’m pretty ambivalent about it.