The pregnancy genre is not a new one, but two of this year’s best movies have managed to present it in a new and novel way. Juno tells the story of a teenage girl who gets pregnant by her barely-out-of-puberty high school sweetheart, while Knocked Up brings us the tale of a beautiful and bright woman who gets pregnant after an ill-advised romp with a pudgy, unemployed stoner. In both of these movies, two people who have no business having a child together, and who aren’t ready for the responsibility in any way, still end up going through pregnancy and birth together. Along the way, both couples find out that whether or not they were ready when the whole thing started (with some less-than-perfect sexual experiences), they have been changed by the life they’ve created. There are plenty of laughs, and tears to be had in each, but which film does it better?
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Hailed by many as this year’s answer to Little Miss Sunshine, Juno is the unusually heartwarming tale of a quirky young woman who gets, for lack of a better term, knocked up by her wimpy high school boyfriend. Director Jason Reitman (Thank You For Smoking) and freshman writer Diablo Cody bring us an appealing indie flick with a stellar cast: Ellen Page stars as Juno, Michael Cera as her sweetheart Paulie Bleeker, and Alison Janey and J.K. Simmons as her long-suffering mid-western parents. When sixteen-year-old Juno consents to take Paulie’s virginity, she doesn’t factor in the consequences. A few months later, Juno is starting to show, which makes for awkward walks down her high school halls. After deciding against “that other option” upon discovering that her unborn baby already has fingernails, Juno scours the PennySaver looking for potential adoptive parents. She finds them in Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner in one of her best performances to date). The Lorings are the picture-perfect yuppie couple – at least from the outside – the only thing they are missing is a child. It is a pleasure to watch Juno cope with her rapidly changing body, her fluctuating teenage relationship with Paulie, and getting to know the future parents of her baby (all while she deals with Chemistry homework). The ensemble is the best part about the film; Ellen Page is wildly talented and her chemistry with the subtly hilarious Michael Cera is palpable. The story is fresh, funny, unique and emotional without being trite or cliché at all.
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The Defending Champion
After the success of The 40 Year Old Virgin, many wondered how Judd Apatow could possibly top it. Fear not, he found a way: Knocked Up. Only his second directing endeavor ever, Knocked Up surpasses Virgin by a long shot for my money; it is funnier and more genuine. The posters for the film sum it up perfectly: An enlarged picture of greasy, sloppy, deer-in-the-headlights Seth Rogan with a caption saying “What if this guy got you pregnant?” The premise itself didn’t sound destined to succeed: Alison, a beautiful, up and coming young woman (Katherine Heigl) goes out for a night of reckless celebration after getting a big job promotion. After a few too many drinks, she decides to go home with Ben Stone (Seth Rogan), a pudgy, overeager stoner, and engage in drunken, unprotected sex. Eight weeks later, Alison is pregnant and keeping it – and shows up at Ben’s door to tell him so. The unlikely pair decides to try to make it work for the sake of the baby, and hilarity ensues. Aided by supporting characters Debbie and Pete (Alison’s sister and her husband, played by the comically brilliant Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), the couple manages to forge a unique and surprisingly sweet relationship. Knocked Up is genuine above all things; even with the broad stoner and bodily-functions humor, the comedy is funny without being fake.
For two movies with such similar premises, the films could not be more different. Juno is decidedly indie, with an emo-folksy soundtrack to match. Knocked Up is not. Juno feels slightly self-aware, like it’s trying to be artsy, while Knocked Up feels like it could have been entirely improv-ed. That being said, the emotion in is real; towards the end, when Mark and Vanessa’s relationship goes awry, I really felt for Vanessa and willed their relationship to work. Likewise with Juno and Paulie – I wanted nothing more than for Paulie to get the girl, protruding belly and all. But the same can be said of Knocked Up. While I was hard-pressed to sympathize with Alison’s bitchy character, I really wanted Ben to win her heart and make one small step for anti-hunks everywhere. The movies have different perspectives: Juno tackles the premise from the viewpoint of its title character, showing us that unplanned pregnancies really can be blessings in disguise, even for teenage girls. Knocked Up looks at the situation through the terrified but hopeful eyes of Ben, showing us that getting knocked up is just as traumatic for the member of the relationship without the hormonal mood swings (although I supposed that too could be debated).
This is an incredibly tough call, but the winner (by a nose) is Knocked Up. The simple reason is that it is so much easier to find a drama that touches you than it is to find a comedy. I fall in love with at least five indie dramas each year, and maybe one comedy every other year, if that. It is commonplace for emotional indie dramas to make me both laugh and cry, but incredibly rare for a broad comedy to do so. While Juno is undoubtedly sweet, fresh and different, Knocked Up is all of those things – plus screamingly funny. See both and you have the complete package.