Knocked Up a K.O.!: Apatow Hits Ground Like Sturges, Wilder

For his part, Ben projects a sweetly unexpected fascination with the prospect of becoming a father. He turns to his own thrice-divorced father (Harold Ramis, a first-rank comedy director in his own right), and gets only hopeful homilies to his requests for useful advice. Ben’s father has no more of a clue as to what makes the world go round than Ben has, and this leaves Ben pathetically unprepared to find his way across a dark, unexplored continent. Of course, it’s always funnier this way, but there you have it: Ben and Alison, two innocents adrift in the uncharted seas of impending parenthood.

Along the way, Ben forms an attachment to Debbie’s husband, Pete (Paul Rudd), who is constantly being nagged by Debbie to become more of a stay-at-home dad with their two darling daughters instead of going out most nights on mysterious “business.” Debbie suspects an affair is afoot. But one night, when Debbie, Alison and (reluctantly) Ben follow Pete to his mysterious assignation, they find him participating in a fantasy baseball draft with a roomful of other vicariously addicted male baseball fans. For Debbie, this is worse than having Pete cheat on her with another woman.

But much to Debbie and Alison’s dismay, Ben admires Pete for being so cool even after marriage. After all, boys will be boys, and men can remain boys forever: Ben and Pete end up bonding together by driving to Las Vegas for a performance of Cirque du Soleil. As it turns out, however, this is Ben’s last bachelor fling before performing heroically in helping Alison to deliver her baby despite the absence of her regular gynecologist at a bar mitzvah in San Francisco (for which he is roundly cursed by both Ben and Alison).

There is one delicious scene in which Debbie’s daughter gives her own very gruesome description of how babies are delivered, and her mother smiles approvingly as she tells her daughter that this is exactly the way it happens. Another unexpected comic gem involves Debbie and Alison, out on their own fling, being denied access to a popular club: The bouncer sorrowfully informs them that they project too mature an image between them for the management to allow them inside and spoil things for the targeted teen and celebrity audience.

The charm of the movie lies in its spasms of warmth and vulnerability as two likeable characters try to find their way into an enforced adulthood that they never rehearsed. Knocked Up isn’t going to help change the world or anything, but at the very least it may help take one’s mind off the relentlessly dismal headlines. I don’t know what greater service a mere movie can perform these days.