Frustrated TV writer turned red-hot feature-film writer-director Judd Apatow further refines the combination of gross-out frat-boy yucks and chick-flick feelings he first explored in his massively popular but overrated debut, THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN. And while not quite as funny or sweet as the Farrelly brothers at their best (THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, STUCK ON YOU, ABOUT A BOY), it's a big improvement.
No longer living with his parents but surviving on the settlement he received when a mail truck accidentally ran over his foot 10 years earlier, chubby, schlubby out-of-work slacker Ben Stone (Undeclared's Seth Rogen) has little direction in life and even less ambition. He and his stoner housemates (Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel and Martin Starr — all of whom worked with Rogen and Apatow in either Freaks and Geeks or Undeclared — and Jonah Hill) have the big idea of some day launching a website devoted to tracking exactly when and where particular DVD stars get naked. So they spend most of their days sitting around, getting high and watching for T&A shots in major Hollywood movies. Alison Scott (Grey's Anatomy's Katherine Heigl) lives in another world entirely. With her close-to-perfect blonde good looks and determination to make it big in entertainment news, she hopes to parlay her behind-the-scenes job as a producer at the E! Entertainment Network into an on-camera correspondent gig. A giddy Alison is out celebrating the career break she's been waiting for when her world unexpectedly collides with Ben's. After snagging Alison a couple of beers from behind the crowded bar, Ben gets up the courage to talk to her, and the night ends with a very drunk Alison taking Ben home to the guest house belonging to her uptight sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow's real-life wife), and her music-biz husband, Pete (Paul Rudd). Alison's morning-after regret, however, is nothing compared to the shock she gets two months later when she discovers that her one-night stand with Ben has resulted in an unexpected pregnancy. It's unexpected, but not entirely unwanted: Alison decides to keep the baby and make things work with boorish Ben, who's no one's idea of a catch. As Alison deals with the prospect of becoming a parent sooner than she'd planned, Ben must face the challenge of finally becoming an adult.
Beginning at the end of the traditional meet-court-marry-impregnate chain of romantic events, Apatow's clever comedy is a romance in reverse, and it works. Swapping in the far more true-to-life Ben Stone for VIRGIN'S one-joke caricature Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) is central to this film's success: Getting serious about a character better suited to a series of recurring comedy sketches becomes quickly tiresome. In Ben, Apatow has written the kind of guy who can offer the latitude to explore what this funny and surprisingly sensitive film is ultimately about: the maturity one ultimately needs to realize that regardless of the best-laid plans — or lack thereof — life has a way of just happening. leave a comment --Ken Fox