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Nefertiti and the Nerd


When we first saw the trailers for writer/director Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, my wife Joyce, who has little interest in physical comedy and zero tolerance for gross-out jokes, turned to me and said, "I have to wash my hair that month." I whispered back that Apatow had made The 40 Year Old Virgin and that she had liked it well enough. "Uh huh," she replied, her mind made up. "But I have to wash my hair that month." In contrast, being a highly paid professional film critic, I kept a resolutely open mind and, though alone, went out to see Knocked Up. Joyce was right; she would not have liked it, and she's convinced I've failed a taste test because I am not willing to dismiss it out of hand.

Knocked Up is the story of Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) and Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), Nefertiti and the Nerd. Alison is a drop-dead beauty who has just been promoted to an on-air position as an entertainment reporter for E-TV. Ben is an overweight, unkempt, unemployed stoner who lives with a group of slacker friends no more physically appealing or professionally ambitious than he is. Ben and his pals suck on their bongs, drink beer, eat potato chips and concoct vague plans to launch a Web site that will provide horny cinephiles with the exact time stamps in movies where their favorite stars appear naked. Charmed, I'm sure.

Among several others, the generative (and yes, a joke lurks in that word) occasion, where the narrative of Knocked Up demands a suspension of disbelief, takes place on the night of Alison's promotion. She goes out to celebrate with her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann). In the middle of their first beer, Debbie has to return home to care for a sick child. But Alison elects to remain at the club where she falls into casual conversation with Ben. The drinks keep on coming. Alison and Ben dance deep into the night. And when Alison is sufficiently intoxicated, she invites Ben home for a one night stand. As they divest themselves of their clothes, Ben states what's foremost in all our minds, "You're a lot prettier than I am." Once the act is complete she's in a pretty pickle: pregnant by a guy she just met.

From start to finish, Knocked Up makes clear that Alison is an unusually decent person. She's gorgeous, but almost utterly devoid of vanity. She has a high-profile, glamorous job, but her personality is open, accepting, down-to-earth and without pretension. Nonetheless, the one night stand Alison has with Ben would be easier to accept if the script gave Ben an attractive quality. He isn't witty and so isn't, Woody-Allen-style, able to use self-deprecating humor to defuse his looks. And though we presume he's intelligent enough, his conversation is hardly stimulating enough to sustain Alison's attention. We believe that she's the kind of woman who would be nice to a guy like Ben. But it's hard to believe she'd want to have sex with him. Of course, if they don't get drunk and then don't go to bed together, we don't have a movie.

More challenges to suspend our disbelief follow. Once Alison discovers she's pregnant, she listens to her mother's advice to terminate the pregnancy. But she doesn't heed it, though we never discover why. She's single. Her financial circumstances are meager enough that she lives in her sister's guest house. The man who impregnated her has less money than she does. Her job as a television reporter will surely be affected, if not ended. And she expresses no religious qualms about seeking an abortion. The giant "why" surrounding her behavior is simply never addressed.

Subsequently, in a further confirmation of what a terrific person she is, Alison decides to include Ben in first the bearing and ultimately the rearing of her child. Seconds later, it seems, while Ben is still leading the race for doofus of the year, Alison decides she's in love with him. And at this development I found myself scribbling in my notebook: "every homely guy's greatest fantasy." Ben is a man pretty women ignore completely. But now Alison moves from polite to friendly to drunken sex partner to genuine lover. Ben can only be a character in a movie.

Joyce would have disliked this movie for its reliance on gross humor, and she wouldn't be swayed by my admiration for the writing in genuinely funny moments with self-important television executives or a hilarious sequence involving magic mushrooms. And despite my stubborn disbelief, I applaud Knocked Up's demand that we look beneath Ben's chubbiness, scruffiness and perpetual three-day growth to see his sweetness. He's a nice guy, and he'll be a good father. And to that Joyce responds, "OK. And if Ben were played by George Clooney, I could probably wait a day to wash my hair."

Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) and Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) - are an unlikely couple about to have a baby together - inKnocked Up. - 2007 UNIVERSAL PICTURES
  • 2007 Universal Pictures
  • Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) and Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) are an unlikely couple about to have a baby together inKnocked Up.

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