It’s all in the delivery
Knocked Up ( MA15+) National release Change of Address ( PG) Limited national release
IT’S possible represents some sort of landmark in the history of the Hollywood sex comedy, aspiring to new levels of vulgarity and foul language. The writer- director, Judd Apatow, has called it a ‘‘ filthy, dirty film with a good heart’’. Normally I wouldn’t approve of any comedy that runs for more than two hours, especially one as filthy and dirty as this one. But as Hollywood sex comedies go, Knocked Up proves to be witty, touching, perceptive and agreeably intelligent. A 20- minute trim would have improved it, but I’ll happily settle for the full version.
Apatow is a specialist in the ways of the dysfunctional American male. In his previous venture into this territory, The 40- Year- Old Virgin , Steve Carell’s workmates are determined he should lose his virginity, and when the hero finds himself in bed with the beautiful Trish ( Catherine Keener), her first question (‘‘ Do you have any protection?’’) is met with the wimpish response: ‘‘ I don’t like guns.’’
In Knocked Up, when our decidedly nonvirginal hero Ben ( Seth Rogen) finds himself in bed for a drunken tumble with the beautiful Alison ( Katherine Heigl), protection is the last thing anyone cares about.
Ben’s half- fitted condom is discarded in haste, and eight weeks later Alison’s promising career as a network television interviewer meets an unexpected setback when she throws up on camera. Pregnancy tests and a succession of offputting gynaecologists confirm her worst fears.
Contrary to my expectations, this is far from being another gross sex comedy of the kind Hollywood kept serving up in the 1990s. Apatow’s script bubbles with good lines, and the performances are endearing. Ben is an oafish nohoper who lives with four equally slack and gormless roommates.
The idea that someone as glamorous and sexy as Alison should find him attractive is bound to reassure uncouth, pot- smoking males. There may be a message here about the bridging of social and cultural divides in an age of sex and celebrity. I liked the idea that Ben’s only means of support is an ex- gratia payment from the government of British Columbia for an injury to his foot. He’s been living off that for years.
The film is something of an Apatow family enterprise. The director’s wife, Leslie Mann, plays Alison’s anxious sister, and their real- life children are given the film’s cutest scenes ( including one little girl’s account of where babies come from that is in marked contrast to what Alison is enduring).
Ben’s dissolute roommates are played ( we are told) by Rogen’s friends. Their one ( unpaid) occupation is compiling a website called Flesh of the Stars, which provides details of movie scenes in which stars have appeared nude ( Meg Ryan, In the Cut , 38 minutes in). This quasipornographic website sits comfortably in Apatow’s quasi- pornographic film, and movie buffs may learn something from it.
After their initial shock and dismay, our onenight couplers are reconciled to the prospect of parenthood. ( Love is another matter, of course, and for the resolution of that dilemma you must wait and see.) Alison is soon shopping with Ben for tiny garments, and for a while I thought we were in for a one- joke comedy about anxious single mothers and the wages of one- night stands, but Apatow allows the story to develop along several lines.
Meanwhile, Alison’s prenatal progress is signalled by captions ( such as ‘‘ 28 weeks’’), blurry ultrasound pictures and a magnificently swelling tummy. Such a film has only one logical conclusion, and we observe it in clinical detail amid scenes of great hilarity in the labour ward.
Defenders of family values can be assured that, whatever they may think of Apatow’s language and other qualities, his heart is in the right place.
The smaller parts are well played: I liked Alison’s sour female superior at the network, and Paul Rudd, as Alison’s hen- pecked brotherin- law, deserves his place in the cast on the strength of his Robert De Niro impersonation. The film is worth seeing.
* * * CHANGE of Address is a French romantic comedy so light and airy that I’m not sure it has a plot, or even that it can be called a comedy. Everything seems to happen at random. Boy meets girl, girl falls for another boy, boy falls for another girl, other girl falls for another boy, other boy falls for girl, and so on. There, I’ve given it all away.
But Emmanuel Mouret, who wrote and directed ( and also plays one of the boys), understands that what happens in a comedy matters less than how it happens, and while nothing in Change of Address is particularly funny, such laughs as there are spring more from the recognition of familiar truths than encounters with the bizarre or the unexpected.
The setting is Paris, a city of quiet streets and undiscovered corners, where David ( Mouret), a horn player, is looking for shared lodgings and paying pupils. His first need is supplied by Anne ( Frederique Bel), a daffy, effusive girl who offers to share her apartment with him. Thus David lives chastely with Anne while longing to win the heart of Julia ( Fanny Valette), his first pupil, whose horn lessons have barely begun before Julien ( Dany Brillant) appears from nowhere and recovers her stolen handbag from the clutches of a fleeing thief.
Julien is a much more dashing and worldly figure than the awkward David, and Julia is smitten. But a kind of old- fashioned courtesy prevails in these entanglements. One lover advises another on how best to make progress with a third party. And the perils of enforced intimacy are there to be overcome. Is it possible to give a massage to one of the opposite gender without experiencing an erotic charge? Can a young man share a bathroom with the soaped body of a naked girl while dreaming of another?
Unlikely it may seem at times, but somehow we are in the real world. None of Mouret’s characters is especially alluring. Anne strikes me as gauche and silly, and the lovely Julia spends much of the film in spells of inscrutable silence. But compared with other recent French romantic trifles, everything feels effortless and convincing. Like The Valet , Change of Address can be called a comedy of errors, but it has none of the strain and contrivance of Francis Veber’s recent film, none of the elaborate complication of Orchestra Seats , the farcical overtones of Priceless or the nuanced intensity of The Singer , with its music and star power.
For sheer undemanding buoyancy it ranks with Pauline at the Beach , the lightest of Eric Rohmer’s moral tales, which gives it a narrow edge over Knocked Up, for my money anyway.
Pregnant pause: Alison ( Katherine Heigl), right, endures an unplanned partnership and pregnancy in Knocked Up, and looks to Debbie ( Leslie Mann) for support