Friday, February 08, 2008

"Knocked Up" vs. "Superbad"

There have been many words written and much blog space devoted to the debate over which is the better of Judd Apatow's 2007 comedies, Knocked Up (directed by Apatow himself) or Greg Mottola's Superbad.

Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in Universal Pictures' Knocked Up.

While they were both in theaters, I was a Knocked Up supporter. I liked both films, but thought that Superbad veered toward more familiar territory than Knocked Up, even if I didn't quite think it was as great as everybody else thought it was. I will still support The 40-Year-Old Virgin until the day I die, and I think Knocked Up very much lives in its shadow and doesn't quite measure up.

But now that I have had time to watch both films again on DVD (in the case of Superbad, twice on DVD) I have changed my tune. In the battle between Knocked Up and Superbad, Superbad reigns supreme.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jonah Hill, and Michael Cera in Columbia Pictures' Superbad.

Neither one are bad films, but upon revisiting Knocked Up earlier this afternoon, I was struck by how the sweet side of the movie seems much more forced to me than it did in 40-Year-Old Virgin, where it flowed very naturally from the story. This go-round, I just couldn't buy that a girl like Katherine Heigl would choose to keep an accidental baby after a one night stand with a shlub like Seth Rogen.

No, I'm not subscribing to the Jeffrey Wells "she's too hot for him" theory. But Rogen's character is just so clueless - an unemployed stoner with a porn website - that the idea that Heigl, a driven career woman and television personality, would ever want to see him again after his behavior, and then decides to keep his baby, is just stretching the limits of believability a bit too far.

Superbad, on the other hand (which was produced by Apatow), is something much more insightful, and ultimately funnier. If Knocked Up is sweet then Superbad is sour, yin to Knocked Up's yang. It may be Knocked Up's perverted cousin, but it has a lot to say about high school relationships, and may just be one of the most accurate portrayals of the high school psyche I have ever seen. The fact that Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg began writing it when they were 13 may have something to with it - and as such the relationship between the two main characters (conveniently names Seth and Evan) is deeply real and recognizable.

It is a darker film than Knocked Up, but ultimately more poignant and piercing in its aims. And the laughs come from the absurdity of reality, and how close to home they hit for anyone who has been in high school in the last decade or so (I graduated in 2004). Knocked Up, while funny, doesn't quite reach that level, in my opinion at least.

Another thing that bothered me during my second viewing of Knocked Up was its handling of abortion as almost a dirty word. The suggestion that Heigl have it "taken care of" by her mother is meant to be a shocking, unthinkable act. This conservative-minded aversion to even saying the word (the closest anyone ever comes is "shushmortion") doesn't help matters, which is why movies like 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days that actually tackle the issue head-on instead of dancing around it are so refreshing. I was surprised how much this actually bothered me, as it didn't the first time around.

I will still defend both films as clearly above average comedy efforts, but I find that Knocked Up pales in comparison to The 40-Year-Old Virgin (which was such an unexpected delight) and that Superbad is much more successful in its aims.

Long live McLovin!

No comments: