At 44, I sometimes feel like I’ve been growing up for decades while popular culture has been standing still. Radio stations I hear in grocery stores and coffee shops play the same songs that were popular when I was in high school. The comic books and fantasy novels that I read in the 1970s and 1980s (or their derivatives) have become the blockbuster TV and film franchises of the 2010s.Saturday Night Live has been on the air, in sickness and in health, since I was 5. And Hollywood studios are still making sequels to the movie that was my favorite at the age of 7.
But one thing has changed — we no longer get raunchy R-rated comedies targeted at teenagers. Back in their heyday, movies likePorky’s and Zapped and Screwballs were all about high school and high-schoolers, and they were obviously designed to appeal to viewers of the same age. Hell, the good ones — I think immediately of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, but I know there are others — had three-dimensional female characters and could even teach a kid something useful about human relations. But over the years, culture has changed. Now we get raunchy R-rated comedies about and for adults. We get 40-Year Old Virgins andThis Is 40s and, Neighbors. in which the buff, sexy frat kids are actually the bad guys and the square 30-something couple next door are the righteous heroes, able to smoke up and party down to spec but still coming out righteously on top of the extended kerfuffle.
I approve of the loose, matter-of-fact approach to adult sex, with Seth Rogen’s soft hips making another appearance on the big screen, as well as the irreverent treatment of parenthood. But I wonder at the way this film turns suburban schlubs like me into wise-cracking, big-screen heroes with enough of the right moves to completely shut down the cool kids. It makes me laugh, and that’s the main thing. But is it wrong to be a little annoyed by the flattery?
Not the movie I hoped for given the endlessly amusing concept, but the movie I should have expected given the résumés of everyone involved. Still not too bad, with almost enough chucklesome moments to recommend it, but I was seriously irritated by the redemption arcs. Saddest moment: The Alienation of Emma Watson. It was kinda nice to have a woman in hand to partly counterbalance all the swinging dicks on the premises.
New York Times critic Bosley Crowther once complained of Stanley Kubrick’s harrowing and hilarious Cold War satire Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, “Virtually everybody turns up stupid or insane — or, what is worse, psychopathic.” Crowther’s concern was not just that Kubrick was making a sick joke out of the idea of nuclear war, but that he seemed (to Crowther) to be out to undermine, discredit and mock the entire American military and executive establishment, depicting the U.S.A. itself as a dangerously deranged member of the global community. Dr. Strangelove is, of course, essential satire and a stone classic. Observe and Report is more derivative and less urgent. Still, it’s quite something. Watching it made me feel a little bit like Bosley Crowther fussing over the Kubrick. “Somehow, to me, it isn’t funny,” Crowther wrote. “It is malefic and sick.”
Summer counterprogramming comes through in a fairly big way with Knocked Up, the follow-up to writer/director Judd Apatow’s sweet, sensible and hilarious The 40 Year-Old Virgin. Steve Carell was charmingly awkward in that movie, but Knocked Up star Seth Rogan is more goofy, with the unassuming smile of a gentle doofus plastered across his face for the film’s duration. Somehow this big lug stumbles into a one-night stand with inebriated TV personality Katherine Heigl and, to the consternation of both parties, a baby is soon on the way. Apatow’s subject is the culture clash between Heigl’s orderly upper middle class lifestyle and Rogan’s Top Ramen digs. Will she accept him for who he is? Will he ever grow up and take responsibility for his actions? Of course they will—it’s Hollywood. The point is how they get there. Without Carell around, the new film doesn’t scale the same outrageous comic heights, but it’s still very funny, with the subjects of pregnancy and childbirth adding a new dimension to the ever-present sex comedy. And as crude as it is—earning its R rating with dirty jokes, raunchy dialogue, and a helping of stoner humor—its witty, family-values approach manages to avoid pandering.