Here’s the secret for making a raunchy comedy work — it has to be sweet and even a little bit romantic. What the makers of films like American Pie and The 40-Year-Old Virgin understood is that the “oh, no, they didn’t!” element and the gross-out factor work best when they are in the context of characters we root for and yes, even some tenderness. Without that contrast and texture, the raunch is just juvenile, and a little boring for anyone past middle school.
And that’s the problem with this new movie from The 40-Year-Old Virgin writer-director Judd Apatow.
Alison, a lovely, educated, elegant young woman (Katherine Heigel of television’s “Gray’s Anatomy) gets drunk one night at a club and has unprotected sex with Ben, a sweet but immature young man. When she discovers she is pregnant, they decide to try to establish a relationship.
But there are a lot of forces against them, including the crumbling marriage of Alison’s sister Debbie (director Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann) and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd). And there’s the slacker quicksand of Ben’s friends who live together, get high together, and hang out together all the time, alternating between dumb bets and challenges, clueless and delusional boasting about make-believe sexual prowess, and jokes that thinly disguise their sheer terror of women. In desultory fashion they even “work” together on a comprehensive online database of the exact inventory of every element of nudity or sex in every feature film ever made. It may just be an excuse to sit around all day getting high and watching dirty footage, but hey, you can’t say they don’t have a dream!
All of this is an excuse for some outrageous humor, much of it extremely funny, especially when Rogan and Rudd get to go off by themselves (in Las Vegas) and go wild (on hallucinogens). The relationship between the two of them is the strongest, funniest, and most authentic in the film. But too much of the rest seems like a bunch of 12-year-olds who have seen too many episodes of “Jackass” and spent too much time playing with their Xboxes. Men are afraid of growing up, parenthood, and women, I get it! And then a childbirth scene — let me just say that there are obstetricians who will learn a few things from some footage that gives new meaning to the term up close and very, very personal.
Yes, the responsibilities of adulthood and being a parent can be terrifying, and there is a lot of humor to be had in seeing people struggle with it on screen. And there is a moment with some truth and wisdom here when one of the men confesses that it is not the courage to love he lacks but the courage to be loved.
But ultimately Pete and Ben and even Debbie are too cluelessly narcissistic and the film loses its sense of recognition of what is and is not fair to expect from ourselves and others. There is a bitter hopelessness and misogynistic bite to the humor without any sense of the transcendence of love, generosity, or unselfishness. Too much of the long running time feels more like an episode of Jerry Springer than comedy based on an exaggerated version of us but still recognizable as human — and as a family we can be happy this baby is joining.
Parents should know that this movie has a great deal of crude humor, including vulgar and explicit sexual references and situations, including nude lapdances and pornography and a graphic (but not bloody) scene of childbirth. Characters use very strong and explicit language. There are references to adultery and characters who do not know each other get drunk and have unprotected sex. Characters drink, get drunk, smoke a lot of marijuana, and take hallucinogenic mushrooms. There is comic peril (no one hurt). And characters behave very irresponsibly, even by slacker comedy standards.
Families who see this movie should talk about some of their own fears about parenting and the conflicts that can arise from different expectations about marriage and family.
Audiences who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Tao of Steve, Nine Months, She’s Having a Baby, and another movie from the same writer/director featuring Rogan and Rudd, The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Oh, and for those who were wondering, the movie the characters in the film are watching with great interest is Wild Things.