« Debate Impressions | Main | The Immigration Bill Advances »

June 04, 2007

Knocked Up

That right there's a good movie. Possibly not as funny as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but close, and almost certainly the better film. Where the-40-Year-Old Virgin took, in reality, male relationships as its subject, Knocked Up focuses on male maturation. The pregnancy, the friends, the shrewish sister and her oddly detached husband -- they're all vehicles to explore that odd transition from a life wherein your strongest attachments are with close friends, to one where your primary companions are your wife and family. Oh yeah, and it's really funny. A mushroom trip involving five different types of chairs and a dressdown from a surprisingly sensitive bouncer are particularly classic moments.

I also agree with much of Amanda's review. The early efforts of folks on both the Right and the Left to brand the movie pro-life were discomfiting. Some in my group seemed genuinely distressed that the main character didn't choose an abortion, and were ready to write off the film for that initial bit of betrayal. I found that baffling.

The flick is pro-choice in the most literal sense of the term. Katherine Heigl's character receives advice in both directions, and then makes a decision -- a decision the audience may very well conclude is the wrong one. But she has a choice; nothing is forced on her, and the most explicit scene on abortion features an eloquent speech by her mother advising her to end the pregnancy because, at this point, she's not ready, and these are not the right circumstances. Heigl, it turns out, disagrees, but that's a perfectly allowable, and indeed respectable, decision within the choice framework. I was, like Brian, disappointed in the movie for making things work out so perfectly (her pregnancy actually ends up aiding her job), but that was a minor sin, and one more attributable to the conventions of romantic comedies than any rightwing agenda. In any case, a good movie, and one that I'd happily see a second time. It's far more fun than the substantive commentary here would suggest.

June 4, 2007 in Film | Permalink


Knocked Up focuses on male maturation

Ok, just guess how I misread this at first.

Posted by: DonBoy | Jun 4, 2007 11:43:20 AM

I agree with you about choice meaning the woman should be free to keep her child, if she desires, Ezra. And I fully intend to see this movie, and will almost certainly enjoy it.

But stories exist in a larger social and political context. Any story whose outcome enhances or supports traditional notions of what choice is the right one is appropriate can't help but add its weight to the balance (how sweet! the woman decides to keep the baby and everything works out just fine! see, you have nothing to worry about -- when in fact, many women do have something to worry about). Not to mention that movies in which the woman decides to keep the baby and everything works out are less politically risky and therefore more likely to be made.

Because there is already tremendous social pressure on women *not* to have abortions -- regardless of whether they have the support of the baby's father, their families, or any way to support themselves and raise a child -- a story that supports that message can't help but reinforce the idea that it's better to keep the baby, even if it means you are screwed. Is this really what we mean by choice?

It'd be nice to have strong, entertaining stories in which a sympathetic woman, one whom audiences can identify with, makes the choice to end a pregnancy, and see! everything works out just fine! She gets true love, and the great job, etc etc etc.

So it's not necessarily a problem with this movie per se; it's that the choice the woman makes doesn't break any new ground, and doesn't provide elbow room for women to confidently claim the choice to abort.

But I don't want to hit this point too hard. This gets into a whole discussion about what the writer's obligation is to society versus the story he or she wants to tell, and I am an absolutist in that regard; as long as the writer tells the story with personal honesty, I'm OK with it. Even if, I might have preferred that the writer push the limits or gone in a different direction.

Posted by: LauraJMixon | Jun 4, 2007 11:58:08 AM

(sorry for typos. posting quickly because I Should Be Writing...)

Posted by: LauraJMixon | Jun 4, 2007 12:00:22 PM

I'm excited because it's Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and Martin Starr--in other words, a mini-Freaks & Geeks reunion. I don't know how the movie is (it does sound pretty good), but I can guarantee the commentary track will be awesome.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Jun 4, 2007 12:41:26 PM

Ok, just guess how I misread this at first. - DonBoy

Glad to know I'm not the only one.

Posted by: DAS | Jun 4, 2007 12:48:49 PM

But stories exist in a larger social and political context.

The onus of a creator is not to write a story that justifies a political or social agenda for the satisfaction of its proponents. Those stories are called 'crap'.

Posted by: twig | Jun 4, 2007 12:51:32 PM

Where the-40-Year-Old Virgin took, in reality, male relationships as its subject, Knocked Up focuses on male maturation.

It was about male maturation in the same way that Gigli was about the vicissitudes of the human heart. Or maybe I just saw a different movie. There was no maturation. The main character learned the same lesson that men in all of these half-baked dude flicks learn: that if you can simply show up and do the bare minimum (I think he read half a baby book), and find it within your heart to forgive women for acting all hysterical now and again--you know how they can get, wink wink--then they'll love you just because you're an affable loser.

On the other hand, it did have some good jokes--writing a decent 'shroom scene seems difficult, so points for that.

Posted by: brad plumer | Jun 4, 2007 12:51:37 PM

... and I do realize that is what you wrote at the end of your comment as well. So I'm not arguing, just that if certain people want certain stories told, it's their obligation to tell them. Especially as an outside perspective is almost certainly not as good as an inside one.

Posted by: twig | Jun 4, 2007 1:00:46 PM

I don't know who to agree with but I've pretty much decided never to discuss art among the people I usually discuss politics with because the aesthetic stalinism is just inescapable, for everyone.

Posted by: DRR | Jun 4, 2007 1:19:56 PM

I agree anyone who uses terms like "aesthetic stalinism" isn't someone I want to discuss movies with. By the way, can someone else tell me what "aesthetic stalinism" is? And I imagine every other white straight guy in America will love this movie- its made for you. I will probably like it too. I like 40 year old virgin.

Posted by: akaison | Jun 4, 2007 1:49:43 PM

I would assume 'aesthetic stalinism' is requiring a movie to fill a certain poltiical or ideological niche before enjoying it.

It's a way to ensure said movies are probably boring as all get out, but I'm art > politics so that's my bias.

Posted by: twig | Jun 4, 2007 2:17:46 PM

Let's be clear here. The problem isn't that "Knocked Up" doesn't present the "choice" well. It's that there's no movies out there-- at all-- in which a lead character has an abortion and that choice turns out to be absolutely right. And that's despite the fact that in real life, most abortions DO turn out to be the right choice, whereas many choices to have a child-- especially when said child is the product of a one-night stand with an iffy male-- turn out to be very tragic ones.

Really, Hollywood is filled with people who know that when its their own careers and lives on the line, abortion is the right choice. Yet on the screen, you have to keep the baby, and things always turn out right when you do.

Posted by: Dilan Esper | Jun 4, 2007 2:48:40 PM

We can discuss whether movies have political and social messages or not, without saying it was badly made. "Triumph of the Will" as a breakthrough in filmmaking and is studied to this day... despite being Nazi propoganda.

I think the issue with pro-choice message is that every single movie like this does in fact decide to pass up the abortion, so it's really not very balanced. I felt the same way with a recent Scrubs episode about this issue. Now, if they did get an abortion there wouldn't be much of a movie, so they best they can do is discuss abortion like it's a serious option. But since there are so few actively pro-abortion stories, there really isn't anything in the way of balance with the many many pro-life movies to call the result pro-choice.

Posted by: Tony V | Jun 4, 2007 2:55:35 PM

I think the issue is, plot wise, that once the abortion is done it really doesn't allow for much conflict to move things along. You could make a movie about a women who gets an abortion and is pilloried for it but then the focus of the movie is about the treatment of the women by the group and not really about the abortion.

Posted by: Parmenides | Jun 4, 2007 3:05:48 PM

Yet on the screen, you have to keep the baby, and things always turn out right when you do.

I guess I don't find this surprising, because entertainment simply doesn't reflect real life; it's more often a heightened, compressed depiction of potential real-life conflicts. A sensible abortion just doesn't have as many dramatic (character development, conflict, danger) possibilities as continuing a pregnancy, so there's not much incentive to write scripts depicting abortion in a positive way. I mean, the whole point of abortion IRL is that it allows individuals to control their lives by minimizing current and future risks, preserving the status quo, and so on, which is pretty boring and would make for an impossibly short narrative arc.

There's probably a good argument to be made that entertainment narratives in general, and film in particular (due to the limitations of minimal exposition, time constraints, & the usual lack of a third-person narrator) are fundamentally conservative... I don't know that it's entirely true, but it's almost always the case that effective drama relies on fairly conservative assumptions in order to work. It's awfully hard to engage an audience if there's no shared understanding of a dramatic conflict, after all, and starting with a fairly simple establishing premise is better dramaturgy.

Posted by: latts | Jun 4, 2007 3:08:57 PM

Dilan, what about the movie High Fidelity? It's not really integral to the plot, but it does get mentioned, and there isn't a kind of "it ruined my life" sort of treatment of the issue.

Posted by: Tyro | Jun 4, 2007 3:09:34 PM

There isn't that much of a market for explicitly pro-abortion fare, so people generally don't make movies about that. That's the commercial reality; movies practice consensus politics. They affirm that abortion are bad but should be legal, which is the mainstream position. It's the same way with other contentious issues, too. Gay people are generally portrayed positively but not that many movies celebrate gay marriages either.

Posted by: Korha | Jun 4, 2007 3:19:40 PM

Oh I liked Knocked Up.

Posted by: Korha | Jun 4, 2007 3:20:44 PM

It's that there's no movies out there-- at all-- in which a lead character has an abortion and that choice turns out to be absolutely right

Literally the only popular culture example I can think of is Claire's abortion in Six Feet Under. I actually had exactly this thought after seeing the movie, which I liked a lot in general: every movie or TV show that ever considers abortion basically sends the message that it's a shameful choice.

Posted by: Antid Oto | Jun 4, 2007 3:26:58 PM

Jennifer Jason Leigh's character gets an abortion in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. As a sophomore in high school! As far as I can remember, it's presented as the entirely correct decision and her character arc has a happy ending.

Posted by: mark | Jun 4, 2007 3:34:34 PM

the only popular culture example I can think of is Claire's abortion in Six Feet Under

And even that one had the presumed-dead Lisa promising to look after what seemed to be a three-month-old baby boy, in Claire's mind. Not a huge deal, insofar as the talking-with-the-dead sequences on SFU were always meant to be purely internal, but Claire's decision really only turns out to be right in the context of a much longer narrative (heck, you only learn about her later successes in the obituaries HBO provided for the main characters). But her conversation with the Republican lawyer about it was kinda funny.

Posted by: latts | Jun 4, 2007 3:37:46 PM

What would the plot be for this fabled woman chooses an abortion and the choice is right movie?

Woman gets pregant
Woman gets abortion
Nothing happens
End Credits

Somehow, I don't see a big audience for that sort of thing.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Jun 4, 2007 3:47:51 PM

"Jennifer Jason Leigh's character gets an abortion in Fast Times at Ridgemont High."

jeez, this is a young crowd. Not sure how anyone could overlook one of the seminal movies for Gen X. Fast Times, Say Anything, 16 candles, Fast Time at Ridgemont High. All staples of the Exers and Stacy's abortion was a huge plotpt in FTRH.

Posted by: hederman | Jun 4, 2007 3:56:27 PM

That's true. It was also almost 25 years ago. Not part of the popular culture of the moment, in other words. If anything, it suggests we're moving backwards.

Posted by: Antid Oto | Jun 4, 2007 4:11:03 PM

I actually thought of another example, though: there was an episode of House this year where House talks a rape victim into getting an abortion. Her deciding to abort is presented as the indication that she is ready to start dealing with what happened to her. I was totally shocked that a TV show would dare present that choice so positively. Of course, they later felt the need to balance that out by having a pregnant woman refuse to abort even though not doing so would almost certainly kill both her and the fetus ... and letting her miraculously live.

Posted by: Antid Oto | Jun 4, 2007 4:14:42 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.