This Is 40
Judd Apatow’s latest comedy drama, spun off from his 2007 hit Knocked Up, is a long and extremely bumpy ride across the well-worn turf of the mid-life crisis. Funny only in fits and starts, it is likely to infuriate and entertain in equal measure - those with low patience thresholds need not apply. The increasingly vocal grumblings about whether Apatow should spend longer in the editing suite before releasing his films are not entirely without merit. Yet there’s fun to be had too, thanks to a pair of enjoyable lead performances and a sprinkling of comedic highlights which rubs shoulders (occasionally uneasily) with more serious-minded drama.
Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, and Apatow’s real-life wife) are a couple on the brink of turning the big four zero. Pete is trying to give up cupcakes and and get healthier while trying to save his record label business from going under. Debbie is trying to find out who stole $12000 from her clothes store while trying to get to know her absent father (John Lithgow). This leads to some friction between the couple, and added to this stress are their two kids (played by, yes, Apatow’s two kids) who are constantly at each other’s throats. As Pete’s 40th birthday party ticks ever closer, will the family still be together by the time the big day arrives?
Apatow finds himself (not for the first time) accused of self-indulgence, and this is difficult to refute here. Leaving aside the fact that he cast his immediate family in almost all the main roles, there are too many extended scenes of tangential sub-plots which do little to advance the main story. I’m not sure there even is a main story: it’s more like a messy series of incidents and interludes, some of which work, some of which don’t; like a sketch show, but slower and with less comedy. This is not in itself a bad thing if it’s aimed at being a slice-of-life project, but Apatow’s reputation for more outrageous-style comedies like The 40 Year Old Virgin weighs against that.
While we’re on the subject, This Is 40 certainly lacks the memorable set-pieces that turned the latter film into a huge hit. Melissa McCarthy crops up in a brief role as an overly aggressive parent at the kids’ school in an attempt to inject some coarse humour into what is otherwise a quite lethargic storyline, but it’s a case of too little too late. The film gently snoozes through its protracted routines, trying to create dilemmas about parents or children or finances or friends, with co-stars like Megan Fox, Chris O’Dowd and John Lithgow occasionally turning up, not doing much and then going away again. Suffice it to say, if you’re expecting a riotous laugh-fest, think again.
So what does work? Chiefly it’s the lead performances from Rudd and Mann, who are both very likeable screen presences and convincingly convey the ups and downs of a relationship that’s hit a rough patch. This is especially remarkable given the fact that neither of them are particularly sympathetic, both being in desirable jobs and living in one of those ginormous homes in which Hollywood would have you believe everyone lives. The petty squabbling over each other’s annoying traits is familiar ground, but has an amusing snarkiness to it, played to the hilt by both stars - the highlight being a conversation about the ways they have dreamt of killing each other. Perhaps then the point of the film is that this is what being 40 is like: a bit of a mess, with ups and downs, but not much to get excited about? In which case, Apatow has illustrated his point exceedingly well.