I'm going to get the unpleasant bit out of the way first:

There's something colossally worrying about the way that Knocked Up, a film in which a young Los Angeles woman is saddled with an unexpected and (at first) unwanted pregnancy, is absolutely terrified of the word "abortion." Specifically terrified, mind; there's a scene in which two male characters discuss whether the pregnant woman is going to get "the operation that rhymes with 'smashmortion,'" only to incur the angry ire of a third male character.

I'm not a zealot, or anything: I understand that there cannot, functionally, be a Knocked Up if Allison Scott (Katherine Heigl) has her pregnancy terminated. And to its credit, the film at least pays attention to the notion that a media professional in L.A. might entertain, briefly, the idea of an abortion.

But we never see a moment of the process wherein she decides that it will be good and right for her to keep the baby. We never see her agonies, be they comic or dramatic, and the moment when she tells Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), the baby's father, that she has made her decision, his momentary look of total anguish (over the phone, I'll point out), is the only moment that the film every considers the idea that for some people in some cases, abortion is an important option.

The problem here isn't that the film doesn't abide by my knee-jerk liberal mindset; it's that the film wastes what is absolutely Allison's greatest arc in the head-long rush to reach the second act. And that points to a problem that writer-director Judd Apatow and his merry band of players showed to a small but noticeable degree in 2005's The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and is quite impossible to ignore here: for all that he and they are able to precisely nail a painfully recognizable cocktail of male insecurities, weaknesses and failures quivering to the floor, they fundamentally don't know how to get inside the female of the species.

One never really notices this in Virgin, which is all about men attacking a manly problem, making complete asses out of themselves, and being bailed out by Catherine Keener, whose function is largely a mechanical one. Knocked Up, on the other hand, is explicitly about the formation and maintenance of a heterosexual relationship, which means that it has two interested parties - one male, one female - in presumably equal share, and there's no possible way to deny it: the film was made by men. They are not chauvinists, and they focus on the ways that men are oblivious jerks to the near-exclusion of men being worthwhile human beings. But the gynocentric POV is totally absent here.

You could at this point call me a total killjoy who's missing the point, and it would be accurate to do so, and the reason for this is that, gender imbalance or no, Knocked Up is extraordinarily good. I think that it is not perhaps "funnier" than Virgin, but it is "better"; its characters are richer, it treats upon more profound topics, it possesses a more clearly defined story arc and fewer extraneous moments.

Yeah, yeah, and it does all of this while including sequences that left me gasping for breath from laughing too hard and too long.

I don't really like deconstructing comedy - if it makes you laugh, it must be funny - but it's probably worthwhile to spend at least a little energy considering the component parts that make the film work as well as it does: first of course, would be Apatow himself, who has an indescribably perfect eye for human behavior, from at one gender at least, and who proves the adage, "it's funny because it's true." You will recognize Ben Stone, in all his potheaded, work-fearing glory, and the laugh of recognition is surely the purest of all laughs.

Second would certainly be the hyper-qualified cast, many of them Apatow alumnae. Certainly there are Rogen and his guy friends, all of them formerly of the prematurely dead TV series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared (neither of which I've ever seen. Which obviously means I suck a little). Leslie Mann, as Allison's brittle sister, is given virtually nothing but straight lines, but she makes them sing. And Heigl herself, while not much of a standout, is maybe the only cast member who really does well in the surprisingly frequent "dramatic" scenes.

The two standouts, however: Kristen Wiig, in the teeny role of an E! Network executive, who manages to turn lines that have no funny reading at all into hilarious laugh lines; and the indispensable Paul Rudd, veteran of many things, charming and wonderful in all he touches. His role is Pete, Allison's brother-in-law, the man who teaches Ben all of the dark things about being a grown-up, and he is an unabridged asshole, but because he is being played by Paul Rudd, we believe everything he says. This trick lets Apatow have his cake and eat it, and I salute and admire his directorial economy.

For all this, it is too long, as I feared, and there are plenty of moments (and apparently whole scenes!) missing from the trailer that I have virtually no doubt that an extended unrated director's cut is in the offing, and at that point the film will be longer than Letters from Iwo Jima, which seemed worth commenting on.

Anyway, I mean to say that there's not really any scenes that could be cut whole; just that so many scenes go on for a few beats long, that there are sags in places, and that as the plot progresses towards the inevitable, startlingly graphic birth scene, sweet sentimentality takes over from the raucous humor, and that is not at all a good development.

But you know? I feel generous and forgiving of Knocked Up and its overlong sweet sentimentality. Few films these days can manage that without tipping into irony or syrup, and this film possesses enough unromantic honesty to avoid both fates. It's not perfect, but nothing is, and there's not enough funny things in the world to throw them away over a few quibbles.