I Can’t Believe I Just Watched Knocked Up

There are, I feel, many unanswered questions about how I could write that whole endless post about, among other things, Superbad, and then go into radio silence for several weeks as the quarter started and I began using a Costco card, finally leading to my having five unopened cans of shaving cream and at least one more wire-mesh wastebasket than I can possibly use.

There were threads about Hegel that went unanswered. For that I am sorry. I am particularly sorry that, in the limited time I have before I go to answer questions about Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Francis Bacon’s Something By Francis Bacon, I am going to pick right up where Superbad left off and write a quick reaction to Knocked Up, also by Judd Apatow. Think of it as the dialectic of Heigl.

It seems like it was just the other day that I meandered, via AOL, to a blog post written by Dinesh D’Souza about (of course) Rosie O’Donnell’s new memoir, and how it epitomizes the borderline insanity of the American “cultural left.” D’Souza writes, “If Elisabeth Hasselbeck is a wholesome symbol of modern American conservatism, Rosie is an appropriate poster child for today’s cultural left. If these two were running in ’08, I think I know which way America would go.”

The fact that pundits like D’Souza have completely lost sight of the difference between The View and American presidential elections deserves further investigation. I had to Google Hasselbeck, and found out that she made her way to The View after being a contestant on Survivor. Like Hasselbeck, Knocked Up‘s Catherine Heigl is a skinny blonde working in the entertainment industry. She is also like Hasselbeck in that her character, and Apatow’s movie, are symbols of American conservatism.

D’Souza is not a particularly important public figure now that the affirmative action debates have fallen off the front page. Knocked Up, however, was a box-office hit and a critical success. David Denby, at The New Yorker, recently argued that Apatow’s great subject is the necessity of growing up, and the losses maturity entails. He only laments that Apatow’s women aren’t as interesting as the men.

It’s not that the women aren’t interesting. It’s that they are pathetically unequal to the men. Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd are laid-back nice guys; the women are fitful, irrational harpies. Allison throws Ben out of her car, and he has to walk to her gynecologist’s office, which he does because he’s so nice. Allison and her sister Debbie, during the film’s adagio section, get all chirped up on Red Bulls, try to go to the club, and get told by the doorman that they are too old and pregnant to go dancing. The doorman gets to give them a lecture on what constitutes good parenting. Meanwhile, Ben and [Paul Rudd] have to suffer through the horrible experience of driving to Vegas, seeing Cirque de Soleil, taking mushrooms, getting lap dances, and then driving home.

Allison’s only real contribution is her belly, which enables the E! network to promote motherhood and celebrity motherhood. Within the world of the film, she is cast in the (actually very realistic) role of the ordinary, personable woman who shows up to improve the otherwise depraved world of celebrity, a la Hasselbeck. Abortion is not something Allison decides is wrong for her; abortion is a clinical procedure with a heart of ice. The word “abortion” is never mentioned in the film; some characters tell Allison to “take care of [the embryo],” and others mince around the word because even the stoners in the film are pro-baby.

It is starting to feel, thinking back on Superbad, that Apatow’s only real subversive insight is that you can drink while underage, or smoke marijuana, yet still be clear-headed enough to eventually have a job and a baby post-hangover. I guess his point is that there’s always room for prodigal sons, a point he tries to make profounder than it is by tolerantly showing dozens of homemade bongs in Act 1.

There are real prodigal sons, and films that give us more reality; a hippie smokes a homemade cigarette in Into the Wild, and we don’t know if he’s smoking tobacco or marijuana. I can’t imagine Apatow watching this scene without demanding to know which it is — what could be more important than that?