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Perhaps never before has the F-word been used so much and in such a worthy cause.
It has been the summer of the raunchy sex comedy, thanks to Knocked Up and Superbad, both of which made $30 million on their opening weekends and contain enough foul language to stupefy a drunken sailor into awed silence. But in between the unspeakable vulgarities (always spoken, of course), both movies make an unexpected brief for personal responsibility and sexual restraint.
They focus on male adolescents of all ages. The protagonist of Knocked Up is a layabout named Ben, an AINO (Adult In Name Only) who lives in a group house with his 20-something friends whose idea of applying themselves is playing ping-pong between bong hits. Superbad follows Seth and Evan, high-school seniors whose ambition is to insinuate themselves into a party of their cooler peers and hook up.
These characters have a unidimensional view of women, shaped, no doubt, by a pop culture seemingly run by and for hormonal male teenagers. What could suit such teenagers better than the wide availability of pornography; than young women told that delaying sexual activity is uncool and impossible; than celebrity young women setting a model of mindless dissipation; than high-circulation women’s magazines devoted to telling women how to please them? The battle of the sexes is over, and it’s been won by libidinous boys.
Or so they believe. Seth, a pudgy, curly-haired schemer, tells his shy friend Evan: “You know how girls are always saying, ‘I was so wasted last night, I shouldn’t have slept with that guy?’ We could be that mistake!” Their ambition is realized by Ben in Knocked Up. He meets a beautiful blond host for the E! television network named Allison at a bar. They laugh, they drink, and one thing leads to another — hence, the title of the movie.
Suddenly, Ben has the woman of his dreams, except it’s the wrong dream. The hot blonde isn’t a rarefied fantasy, but a real person who desperately needs a fellow adult to shoulder with her the responsibilities of having a child. In one scene, they are together in his bedroom during a minor earthquake that shakes loose all the detritus of his existence — everything you’d expect to find under an average teenage boy’s bed — into one pathetic heap. His choice is whether or not to leave all that behind.
Seth and Evan in Superbad don’t impregnate anyone, but they too are confronted by the emptiness of what they thought were their fondest dreams. Drunken hookups aren’t as enjoyable as they thought, and the girls they imagined were easily available for casual sex aren’t so shallow. Their libidos are defeated by the complexity of human relationships, even among high-schoolers.
Thus, movies superficially about guys seeking sex become about guys learning the importance of relationships. Seth and Evan need to get to know the girls they’ve made into sex objects, and whatever comes of that, they realize the treasure they’ve had in their own friendship (which produces the most touching “love” scene in the movie). Ben in Knocked Up finds that he can’t have Allison without knowing and serving her — not what he originally had in mind.
That two popular gross-out comedies have this layer of meaning is a tribute to the inspired work of writer/producer Judd Apatow and writer/actor Seth Rogen, who collaborated on both. Rogen told Time, “We make extremely right-wing movies with extremely filthy dialogue.” That’s not their intention, but by developing characters who are more than mouthpieces for gags, inevitably they tell us something about what it really means to be a person.
Knocked Up and Superbad are hardly Humanae Vitae, but in a culture that celebrates everything youthful, they say “grow up.” In a culture that apotheosizes the self, they say “think of others.” In a culture that worships sex, they say “not so fast.” And they say it profanely and hilariously.
© 2007 by King Features Syndicate