'Knocked Up': Liberal or conservative?

Kup_lNot everyone likes Knocked Up. Take Variety editor Peter Bart, for instance. Three months ago, he was skewering film critics as elitist and out of touch for their unenthusiastic responses to such spring 2007 box-office hits as Norbit, 300, and Wild Hogs and suggesting that reviewers take a sabbatical until summer ends and the Oscar-baiting serious movies come out. (This while he begrudgingly admitted that those movies weren’t very good and that audiences "deserve better than they are getting.") Now, however, comes a summer-movie hit that finds critics in sync with audiences, and Bart still isn’t happy with the reviews, singling out for particular scorn the remark by EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum that Knocked Up is "the very model of a great comedy for our values-driven time."

To Bart, the movie’s values are "f—ed up" and "defy credibility." He thinks the movie wimps out because Alison (Katherine Heigl, pictured at left, with costar Leslie Mann) doesn’t get an abortion and because Ben (Seth Rogen) abandons slackerdom for responsible fatherhood. (I guess Bart preferred the values of Norbit, a movie that urged audiences to root for the protagonist to leave his repulsive wife for a younger, slimmer, prettier love interest. Maybe those values are more credible in Variety‘s Hollywood, where actors and executives do that sort of thing all the time.) But let’s be fair to Bart; he’s not the only one confused by the complex and ambiguous message Knocked Up conveys — if, indeed, it has a message at all.

addCredit(“Suzanne Hanover”)

There are a number of pundits on the left side of the blogosphere (for instance, here, here, and here) who, like Bart, find the film’s values too reactionary. How feminist, after all, is it for the movie to discount abortion as an option, or to saddle smart and beautiful Alison with schlubby Ben? Meanwhile, over on the right side of the blogosphere, they’re just as torn. The pundits (here, here, and here) are glad that the film rejects abortion and embraces the nuclear family, but they’re alarmed by the raunchy humor and all the screen time given to the lazy, drug- and porn-loving guys.

Seems to me that neither side gets to claim this movie. Or maybe both sides do. Like writer/director Judd Apatow’s previous feature, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up appears to endorse traditional values (in Virgin‘s case, that meant the notion that sex is better if you save it until you’re married) but wallows in hilarious raunch on the way toward that tidy moral. Apatow’s movies get to have their cake and eat it too, to work both sides of the aisle, which is one reason everybody likes them — at least, everybody who isn’t trying to use them to score ideological points.

More relevant, perhaps, is that those two plot hurdles in Knocked Up — that a guy like Ben could score with a gal like Alison, and that she’d go ahead and have his baby — are there because without them, there’s no movie. Maybe Apatow’s not trying to impart a moral or political lesson; maybe he’s just trying to make you laugh.


Comments (64 total)
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  • Brad

    That was an awesome response, Gary. I couldn’t agree with you more – it is not a parable or other biblical lesson – it is a comedic movie, people.

  • ny1

    Sounds like Peter Bart is an idiot.

  • Jane

    Peter Bart, you need to unclench.

  • AJ MacReady

    It’s just a funny movie with heart; they need to keep the baby (and get together) for the story to work, as I’m not sure even Apatow could make a movie about abortion funny. Although there was one jet-black comedy about pregnancy, Citizen Ruth, and that was good. But I think Knocked Up doesn’t have an agenda and isn’t trying to say anything really deep except that maybe it would be nice, and a little sweet, for these two to try to start a family together. And I think the movie is mostly saying: isn’t it fun to just laugh hysterically at great characters and clever writing? To have a good time?

  • LMF

    I have to say, it amazes me how many people, even on the ew message boards, want to make this movie some kind of a political “statement.” The move is FUNNY. I’m sorry, but considering how lame most movies are that come out of Hollywood, the notion that one movie just wants to entertain you is sort of revolutionary.

  • LaRochelle89

    I saw Knocked Up this morning. I don’t go in for the “guy humor” and was embarrassed more than a few times. I loved the movie and recommended it to my daughter’s daycare provider. Bart’s comments anger me as a woman. The film accurately portrayed the anguish of an unexpected pregnancy (Heigl crying at ObGyn appt, discrimination at Academy awards, hormonal and physical changes,birth scene). Being a parent is tough and most of us need a film like Knocked up to help us laugh at ourselves. Either that or a fantasy baseball team.

  • jenna

    I don’t understnd how allison NOT getting an abortion is decidedly unfeminist…isn’t that what the power of CHOICE is all about? I am against abortion, and can’t help but feel there are many women out there who support the right to choose, yet would never choose that path for themselves or their unborn child.

  • SJ

    This movie had a good story line, however it was 30 – 45 miuntes to long and the screen play writers had no imagination. A little more thought and a quicker wit would have been a refreshing change from the 500 plus times they used the F-word. After the first 100 times it lost it’s impact. A good story line, good actors, very poor screen play. If you have the maturity level of a twelve year old and you giggle everytime you hear the F Word or you get excited over crude humor, this movie is for you. For those of you who took your young children to this movie and sat there laughing, it is time for you to turn in your parenting card and grow up yourself.

  • Kim

    It was a funny movie that made me laugh. I would see it again. I went to the movies to be entertained not to be given a lesson in feminism or anything else. I was entertained, mission accomplished.

  • anonymous

    Perhaps having not read the original review, this is where my confusion lies, but I also think that right to choose includes the right to carry the pregnancy full-term. The point is that the option for family-planning exists, not that a person _has_ to take it. Saying otherwise is the real argument against feminism.
    …At least, if I were overanalyzing that’s what I say. Echoing the people who think that’s not the point of the movie. Storytelling is supposed to include “what if” scenarios. If Bart didn’t like this particular one…well, fanfiction also exists, tell him to go write it. :p

  • Maxwell

    It’s a really funny movie. People need to stop trying to say it’s to liberal or conservative and just laugh a little or they wouldn’t feel the need to disect this film.

  • whol

    Easy answer: if she had an abortion, the movie would be over. Peter Bart needs to get over himself and stop trying to impose his own agenda on a gross out comedy.

  • EJ

    The movie is called “Knocked up!”, not “Abortion: The Comedy”! Allison made a choice by keeping the child. The movie is heartfelt and funny, it drives me crazy that people always have to project politics on everything!

  • krushgroove

    Forget all this – Judd Apatow is banging Leslie Mann? NICE!

  • Honeybee

    It is completely silly to put a liberal or conservative spin on “Knocked Up” becauses it skewers most everyone’s perceptions about parenthood and family. And in a good way.

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