‘Oh, baby, I like it raw,’ Ol’ Dirty Bastard sings over the opening credits of ‘Knocked Up’. Well, who doesn’t? And so, when slacker Ben (Seth Rogen) thinks Alison (Katherine Heigl), the hot aspiring TV presenter he’s somehow picked up at a club, tells him not to bother with a condom, he doesn’t. The results of this sozzled cock-up are an unwelcome pregnancy and the year’s best comedy; one that confirms the arrival of an extended group of talent that looks set to take the studio comedy crown from the likes of Ferrell, Stiller and Carrey, and deserves to.
Like Judd Apatow’s directorial debut, ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’, ‘Knocked Up’ takes a subject ripe for bawdy knockabout, delivers that with aplomb – here we get top gags about sneaking a peek at the gynaecologist’s, sex during pregnancy and crowning – but also offers a raft of nuanced, credible and moving relationships between a group of sympathetic, imperfect characters. Here we get Ben’s stoner roommates, whose pastimes include working on a celebrity skin website and not shaving for a year, and Alison’s sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann), whose marriage to Pete (Paul Rudd) offers salutary lessons on the ups and downs of shotgun matrimony a decade on.
Long rehearsals and plentiful improvisation are the trademarks of Apatow’s approach, and his well-established ensemble delivers not only killer laughs but also a palpable sense of affection; the family feel is enhanced by the fact that Mann is Apatow’s wife and Debbie’s kids their own. Both up-to-the-minute pop culture and Ben’s Jewishness are also disarmingly mined to impressive effect, and Rudd’s De Niro impression is an absolute hoot.