Screenwriter: Judd Apatow
Starring: Seth Rogen, Katherine Heigl, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segel, Steve Carell
Running time: 124 mins
Over the last few years, one film-maker has tickled the world's funny bone like a clown on speed. This gentleman - an unassuming, slightly nerdy New Yorker - wrote, produced and directed The 40-Year-Old Virgin, snagged production credits on a couple of better-than-average Will Ferrell flicks (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), and leant his creative nous to Superbad, the most hyped comedy of the autumn. And his well of humour hasn't dried up yet: next year, no fewer than six movies will bear his name on their production credits. That's pretty good going for a man who started his career writing jokes "as if I were an overweight, middle-aged housewife". Yup, Judd Apatow got his break penning funnies for Roseanne Barr.
Knocked Up, Apatow's latest smash, attempts to mine humour from an all-too-familiar comic scenario. Pudgy, idle Ben (Rogen) enjoys a night of groin-grinding excitement with stunning, career-minded Alison (Heigl) after they meet in a boozy LA nightclub. In the throes of passion, Ben fails to proffer a prophylactic, and nature takes its course. When Alison comes round the next morning, nursing a swollen head and a whopping sense of regret, she's repulsed by Ben and resolves to nip their relationship in the bud. She forgets all about their brief encounter until, several weeks later, she finds out she's pregnant. The unlikely couple attempt to patch together a relationship for the sake of their unborn child, but will it last?
The film's opening moments are curiously stilted. When Ben's stoner buddies announce they're setting up a website listing movies in which famous actresses bare all, and Apatow proceeds to pepper the script with references to onscreen nudity throughout the decades, it's easy to assume that Knocked Up is just another slacker comedy made by a gang of self-possessed film geeks. But Apatow soon rolls some cracking lines - Ben's hirsute housemate is told he "looks like Robin Williams' knuckles" - and eventually crafts a comedy that manages to be warm-hearted and romantic without slipping into cliché. Ben might not have the means to whisk Alison away for a weekend in Paris, or the nous to treat her to a home-cooked dinner, but his ham-fisted efforts to be a kind, considerate boyfriend are surprisingly touching.
Knocked Up benefits enormously from the likeability of its leads. Rogen is an modest, economical comedian who handles the film's more thoughtful moments with aplomb. He even manages to squeeze a few cheap laughs out of the birth scene, a comic set up that's as stale as a week-old fart trapped in an windowless room. Heigl, the star of US medical drama Grey's Anatomy, flexes her comedic muscles impressively in a turn that should propel her towards Hollywood's A-list. Anne Hathaway reportedly turned down the role because she objected to the brief glimpse of Alison's - though not Heigl's - vagina during the birth scene. She might live to regret that decision. Movies that maintain a veneer of hipness while packing in this many laughs don't come around very often - vulva shot or no vulva shot.
If Apatow was seeking to make a film that's smutty and funny, but also romantic and realistic about relationships, he's succeeded admirably. There's a whiff of self-indulgence to Knocked Up - a whiff that becomes a stink when Virgin's Steve Carell turns up for a knowing cameo at the denouement - but it feels churlish to complain when the jokes are this good. Roll on Superbad.