"Knocked" down

If the just announced Palme d’ Or winner at Cannes “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” went mano-a-mano at the box office with “Knocked Up,”  Judd Apatow’s new comedy about sexual mores, which do you think would win?

Here’s a hint: the former has been described as “a devastating Romanian film on back-alley abortion and daily despair in the communist era.” The latter as film that “wants you to laugh (but not only laugh, and not in a mean way) about…out-of-wedlock pregnancy?!?”

Obviously I haven’t seen the much lauded Cannes winner yet, but I have seen Apatow’s new film and quite frankly, after the hilarity and seeming integrity of "40-Year-Old Virgin," I was disappointed. It might be the most dishonest movie of the year, cashing in on the hot button topics sensationally suggested by the title and then cravenly refusing to confront them.

In it a 23-year-old career woman has a one-night stand with a loutish pick-up in a bar. She immediately forgets him until a few weeks later when she discovers that she’s pregnant. Does she consider abortion? It’s referred to as the “A-word” in one jokey scene it is never raised again. Instead, she and the now chastened former slacker, a complete stranger mind you, decide to put aside their lives up until then, become a couple and raise the child together.

Okay, I understand that nobody wants to get the Moral Majority on their ass about their picture. And  anyway the film has already made plenty of concessions to the bong, beer and boob crowd with its priapic humor and pop cultural riffs. As Stephen Rodrick notes in his otherwise butt-kissing "New York Times Magazine" profile (the above wacky “out-of wedlock pregnancy?!!” quote was taken from the article's headline), “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.”

No, what bugs me more than his evasion of one of the most flagrant issues raised by the film is that Apatow obviously sees how this kind of unthinking social and moral conformity can arouse rage and resentment. But he refuses to come to terms with that issue as well, either comically or dramatically.

Instead, he defuses the tension by posing an alternative couple, the pregnant woman’s sister, a castrating harpy (played by Apatow’s own wife, Leslie Mann) and her husband. The sister's irrational and hateful abuse of her far more sympathetic, and funnier, husband amounts to a co-dependent, sado-masochistic version of domestic bliss, which in the end everyone, nonetheless, seems to embrace.

That and a couple of outbursts of seemingly gratuitous, utterly unfunny and misdirected rage and self-loathing suggest that beneath the film’s hip, scatalogical humor and sentimental acceptance of conservative family values lies unacknowledged doubts and despair about the institutions of marriage and parenthood. Had he been honest about these issues, Apatow might have turned out a darker, funnier, more disturbing comedy. But then he’d have about as much luck at the box office as a prize-winning film from Romania.

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