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SXSW: Knocked Up, Smiley Face

Monday things slowed down a bit at SXSW. The most interesting movies premiered over the weekend, and while screenings were still going full force, everyone seemed to be approaching them with less verve. Truth be told there was only one real reason I stuck around SXSW till Monday, and his name is Judd Apatow. His new movie was scheduled to premiere Monday night, and to make sure I’d be there I skipped the 4:00 movie I’d normally have hit to stand in line and ensure myself a good seat. It was worth the wait.

Knocked Up

Anyone who thought The 40 Year-Old Virgin was just a fluke take notice. Judd Apatow has done it again. His sophomore directorial outing is Knocked Up, and it reunites much of the Virgin cast for a poignant and funny look at another important life issue.

That’s the real genius of Apatow’s work. He has this magical way of connecting to what people really think and feel about the big questions in life, the stuff nobody talks about, the things we all know but are either too ashamed to say. As he did with Virgin, he uses that insight on Knocked Up to make something brilliant happening.

If you’ve read anything about Knocked Up then you’ve already got the plot down. 40 Year-Old Virigin and Freaks and Geeks supporting actor Seth Rogen stars as Ben Stone, a stoner and adult man-child who accidentally gets Alison, a successful, straight-laced, career-minded woman pregnant. Thrown together by circumstance, Ben is forced to grow up.

Here’s the thing, guys usually hate movies like Knocked Up. There’s nothing dudes hate more than movies about babies and marriage. But Knocked Up is the rarest of rare relationship movies, it’s told from the male perspective. I’m not talking about the dumb, Hollywood version of the male perspective. You know, the one where we’re all supposed to picture ourselves and wild wildebeests being lassoed and hogtied by hormone crazed women who try to take away our beer. Ok, there’s a little of that in Knocked Up too. But I’m talking about the real perspective, the more complicated one where guys struggle with taking on responsibilities and growing up into men.

That’s really what Knocked Up is all about. It’s not just about growing up, it’s the kind of movie that helps you grow up. And it’s so subtle about it. When the film starts you’re rooting for the film’s lead Ben Stone to hang on to his life of giant bong parties and sleeping in, but by the end you’re cheering for him to well… give it up and be a dad. The stuff in between is subtle and smart, the characters are so well developed and so universal that it’s impossible not to become completely involved in them.

The shocking thing is that all this is going on in what is basically a wacky comedy. But the reason Knocked Up manages to say and mean so much while getting laughs is that most of the humor in the film comes from people simply talking, talking honestly about the way we all think and feel way down inside. Sure, there’s the occasional drug use gags, but even those are used to propel the characters somewhere important. When Seth Rogen’s Ben and Paul Rudd’s Pete run off to Vegas and get high on mushrooms, it’s funny, but it’s also used to push them into a frank discussion of the stuff going on inside their heads that has them scared to death. It’s there for a reason, it means something. It’s not just a throwaway.

Knocked Up is a great movie. I’ve been a fan of Seth Rogen’s for a long time, and it’s fantastic seeing him really come into his own as a leading man here. Paul Rudd is back in another one of his “friend” supporting roles, and by now he and Rogen have such an easy, natural chemistry that when they’re together playing off one another the script comes alive. The 40 Year-Old Virgin is one of my all time favorite films, and while Knocked Up won’t supplant it as Apatow’s best work, it’s another amazing entry from a real filmmaking genius. If anyone wants to start a Judd Apatow cult, hand me a hooded robe and give me a fat, smiling, golden Apatow idol to worship. I’m in.

By the time Knocked Up ended I had only thirty minutes before the start of my next and final screening of SXSW, but man did I need to pee. I raced to a restroom and up to a urinal, and did that thing you do where you look out of the corner of your eye to get a feel for who’s peeing at the stall next to you, you know, just in case you need to rumble. In this case, I’m pretty sure I could have taken the guy, because it was Jonah Hill. You know, the guy who bought shoes in The 40 Year-Old Virgin. The guy who wanted you to ask him about his wiener in Accepted. Not only did I not ask him about his wiener, I also resisted the temptation to look. Instead, I washed my hands (yes Jonah washed too) and ran to the lobby to get ready for my next movie. Luckily, it was in the same theater so I walked out the door and got right back in line. It wasn’t long before me and my fellow line waiters were approached by a homeless man begging would-be movie watchers for money. Apparently the homeless haven’t met many serious cinephiles. Most of them don’t have jobs let alone money, they’re too busy watching movies.

Smiley Face

The last thing the world needs is yet another stoner comedy, but Greg Araki has directed one anyway. When called on stage to introduce Smiley Face before the film’s screening at SXSW, Araki admitted that one of the reasons he was so keen to have the movie play in Austin was because he thought Austin audiences were the type that would most enjoy his film. What he meant by that was that Austin is full of potheads. Smart move, because they’re the only ones who will be laughing at his lame drug comedy.

Smiley Face’s gimmick, the thing that is supposed to set it apart from all the other marijuana gag movies, is that its lead is a woman. It’s the first stoner movie about a braindead woman, so of course they cast Anna Faris. The real problem with their female lead gimmick though, is that they never really explore it. I mean technically Faris plays a woman, but the difference between her and any dude stoner you’ve ever met is simply that somewhere under her shirt (we presume) she has boobs. There’s no exploration of what it’s like to be a woman trapped in a male pothead world or anything.

If you’ve ever thought Faris was hot, after watching Smiley Face you won’t. She’s every gross stoner chick you’ve ever known, only with more dried vomit in her hair. Maybe that means her performance was sort of alright, since her transformation into waste of space lump was so complete. But then I’m not sure how hard it really is to play a waste of space lump, especially one whose character arc is as dead on arrival as this one.

The film follows every cliché pot movie plot arc. Stoner does something stupid, stoner hallucinates, stoner goes on some sort of road trip, breaks laws, and ends up being pursued by the cops. The jokes have been done before and better. It’s incredibly tedious. Unless you’re high out of your mind, stay far away from Smiley Face.

That’s it for me from SXSW. I’m outta here. Four days, way too many movies, and I’m out of juice. A quick stop at the awesome Kirby Lane café for breakfast in the morning, and then it’s just me and the open road. If you liked our coverage of SXSW and want us back there doing more of it next year, then drop me an email (and if you can’t figure out how to do that on your own I don’t want one from you) and show some appreciation. If you hated it, keep your mouth shut and watch the site for Lexi’s impending coverage of the great Tribeca Film Festival in New York.

For all of Cinema Blend’s full SXSW 2007 coverage click here.