A big, fat, gooey smile fixes itself to your face early on in Knocked Up, an impossibly sweet and unerringly sympathetic comedy of misfortune. As writer-director Judd Apatow’s follow-up to The 40 Year-Old Virgin, the movie also has the good sense to be dorky often. Apatow’s strength has always been his patience for freaks and geeks mustering confidence in a too-cool world. But what may make Knocked Up even more audacious than Virgin isn’t just its neat reversal of the premise—these characters are a bit too lucky in the sack—but its elegant transition over the course of two hours into a rare realm of American humor, where comedy becomes philosophy.
Ben (Rogen, in a career-making performance) takes his habitual stoning and movie-tits ogling seriously—as does Alison (Heigl) her chirpy, blond ascent to celebrity-interviewer quasistardom. They’re not meant to hook up, but that’s exactly what happens one drunken night on the dance floor; two months later, what Ben assumes to be a booty call is actually a tense status report, each panicking into accusations. (Apatow’s ear for dialogue has, if anything, sharpened; he also ducks the obvious abortion angle with a bit of visual humor in front of an ultrasound that heralds stronger directing chops.) Deciding to grow into intimacy, the two eventually reach the demystified end of romance, the script adding realness with every turn. Ultimately the film says that fate has a way of kicking you up a notch, if you can somehow let yourself rise to the occasion (very scary, and not just to breeders). Apatow can certainly claim this saw to be true. (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — Joshua Rothkopf