Superbad and Knocked Up - DVD Review

Earlier this month we saw the release of two features from writing/directing/ producing/starring team Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. Both tell coming of age tales, one focusing on the journey of three co-dependant teens (Jonah Hill, Michael Cera and Christopher Mintz-Plasse) across one night’s partying while the other on the nine month pregnancy of a women (Katherine Heigl) and her reluctant, rather bemused partner (Rogen). Both were warmly received in the press and made good box office grosses so while it may be slightly unfair to review them together the points for comparison are too numerous to ignore.

For all the pratfalls and one-liners, goofs and embarrassments it is Superbad which eventually comes off the worst of the two. Comparisons not just to Knocked Up but also to American Pie have been rife and there is an air in the movie that we’ve seen this all before. Considering that its meant to be a hilarious study of boys maturing into men some of the jokes and one-liners simply aren’t funny ‘I figured out which website I wanna subscribe to’ says Jonah Hill’s Seth during his introduction, ‘the ‘vag-tastic voyage’’. A joke about a porn site…in a teen-comedy…do tell.

The three friends are reasonably lovable in a repulsive kind of way but it is Hill who stands out in the end in a sore thumb kind of way. He simply cannot keep up with Michael Cera’s (now of Juno fame) level of acting and consistently overplays his lines and actions to an unintentionally embarrassing degree. When he’s not overplaying he’s underplaying, giving off a protracted air that he just can’t be bothered with being on set. Luckily for him then that in Knocked Up Apatow casts him as a lazy stoner who barely moves from his couch and is conveniently named Jonah and, guess what, he’s perfect.

Where Superbad creates characters who fulfil the audiences needs Knocked Up creates two apparently stereotypical adults who reveal hidden depths as the film progresses. Taking the lead for himself Rogen is perfect as the boy-trapped-in-a-man’s-body Ben who accidentally gets Heigl’s Alison pregnant. Seeing the two actors on a poster or DVD you’d be forgiven for questioning how they got together in the first place but Apatow skilfully works a story we can all believe in.

Eventually Knocked Up begins to subscribe to Rom-Com cliché but not before it has managed to play around with our emotions as to who, if anyone, is the victim in this unfortunate situation. The maturation of Ben is wholly believable from beginning to end and is one of those rare moments of character when you leave the cinema knowing everything about someone, including what wasn’t shown on screen. Alison is slightly more flat and predictable but Heigl gives her a real charm which warms the screen on every occasion. By the time the inevitable love story winds up you can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy towards the both of them.

The stories within the films create a neat metaphor for how good they operate as a whole. Superbad is an immature tale of discovery, friendship and (yes, you guessed it) sex, which never quite makes it out of using porn jokes and slapstick humour while Knocked Up matures from slacker comedy to loved-up Rom-Com. There are differences here in direction and storytelling as well which separate the men from the boys. Superbad’s sub-plot of two errant cops (Rogen and Bill Hader) is wrapped up with a conclusion tantamount to ‘I woke up and it was all a dream’ shedding no praise on director Greg Mottola nor co-writer Rogen. Meanwhile Knocked Up’s subplot of Ben’s relationship with Alison’s sister (Leslie Mann) and her husband (Paul Rudd) is never short of relevant or entertaining. Rudd in particular is given all the best lines, ‘Marriage is like a tense, unfunny version of Everybody Loves Raymond’ he educates Ben with at one point, ‘only it doesn't last 22 minutes. It lasts forever.’

Apatow is clearly a talent to watch who has already been spotted by numerous observers and while Rogen’s writing can be erratic at times he shows with Knocked Up that he’s got the skill to hold together tricky plotting and create believable characters. In the end Superbad isn’t a bad movie but it certainly isn’t as good, complex or developed as even a single character in Knocked Up.

Knocked Up

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