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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

more about ‘Knocked Up,’ because apparently I am a masoschist today

For those of you who don’t understand my complaint that Knocked Up is a retrograde nightmare, here’s Richard Corliss in Time magazine on the strained conservatism of the film:

Knocked Up is, essentially, a rich-girl-poor-boy romantic comedy, of the kind Hollywood manufactured by the hundreds in its glamorous, sexually restrictive prime [of the 1930s]….

The difference back then, kids, was the iron-clad code of behavior imposed on movie characters. No sexual union without marriage was condoned; no woman blithely chose to have a child out of wedlock; abortion (or, as it’s delicately alluded to in Knocked Up, “shmuh-shmortion”) was not considered, not even discussed. Considering all the strictures on what was allowed in movies, we marvel at the ingenuity of writers to confect situations that satisfied audiences then, and still delight us today, if only in their gleaming artificiality.

Apatow labors under none of those caveats. Marriage is an option, not a command, for couples living together; nearly 40% of all babies born in 2005 had unmarried mothers; more than a million legal abortions are performed each year in the U.S. So Apatow, like all modern comedy writers, has another challenge: how to create social and ethical barriers — the ones the old screenwriters relied on for their characters to hurdle — when few exist. His tactic: rebuild the old barriers. If those hobbling conventions worked for the old masters, they might be worth resuscitating.

Bingo! There’s a lot more, and it’s all worth reading.

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  • t6

    Ah, how I long for pre-Code films. Let’s try this film again with Mae West as the lead. I’ll tell you what, it wouldn’t go down like Knocked Up.

  • MaryAnn

    The Code was appalling. And yet it’s undeniable that it forced filmmakers to be more creative. Hollywood — and most of American culture in general — seems to forget that “sexy” is in the brain and the imagination, not in the genitalia.

  • t6

    For me the problem with the Code was not its regulation of sex…but its regulation of morality.

    But, on the topic of sex. In my estimation, America’s problem is that it is simulatneously still Puritanical (see the witchhunt of Janet Jackson’s nipple) while simultaneously being over-sexualized (see…um..the San Fernando Valley’s entire film industry).

    Though a lot of this does seem to have to do with anxiety about female sexualiy. If a woman is firmly and passively contained by the male gaze, then she can be as sexualized as possible (see lots of Bond women), but if the woman is in control of her sexuality as a non-passive actor. If she wields her own gaze, not use submits to the gaze of others…then we start getting all wierded out as a culture (see the electroclash singer Peaches).

    I wonder when the current anti-feminist backlash will ever end?

  • Josh Gilchrist

    MaryAnn makes an excellent point about Hollywood having to be more creative during the Hayes Code period. Still, I can’t see how it applies to “Knocked Up,” a film which makes really no attempt to be sexy, nor does it need to

  • Giles

    After reading your review I saw “Knocked-Up” with a jaded eye and was keen to see if an agenda, any agenda was being promoted.
    My conclusion is: No. In fact, I would go so far to say that “Knocked-Up” cannot be pigeon-holed or easily defined. The beauty of the film is that it doesn’t play like an episode of “Davey and Goliath” or Aesop’s Fables. There is no moral or message. Things aren’t wrapped up in a pretty little package. At the end of the movie many issues are left unresolved. It is a messy movie not representative of anything, except itself. Nor do the characters represent any large, general group of people. They live in Hollywood. They have jobs like working on E! or scouting bands, or in the case of Ben, getting hit by a postal truck and living off the settlement. Very few of us could claim to be in similar situations. These are specific people in specific situations, Ben does not represent Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces”, nor does Allison.
    Anyone trying to find a message in this movie is foolish.
    Similarly, anyone implying that this is the aim of the movie is also foolish.

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