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'Knocked Up': Liberal or conservative?

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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.