The latest film from comedy auteur Judd Apatow examines how rough it must be to be gorgeous, affluent, working in cool jobs, and approaching middle age. I know, “wahhhh”, right?
This Is 40 finds Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprising their roles as Pete and Debbie from Apatow’s smash from a few years back, Knocked Up. Not quite a sequel, more of a spinoff, the focus here is squarely on this couple and the effect of turning 40 and dealing with the things life brings at that age on their marriage.
Like Knocked Up and earlier Apatow hits such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin, This Is 40 aspires to mix dirty talk with sentimentality and just a touch of relateable drama. Of course, not all of us can relate to the characters in This Is 40; Rudd’s character Pete, for instance, owns a cool, fringe record label that signs older (but still cool) musicians such as 80s British new wave rocker Graham Parker—who has a pretty substantial role, actually. Debbie owns a cool clothing store peopled by weird-but-funny Charlyne Li and hot-but-funny Megan Fox. In a nod to today’s economic conditions, both businesses are having money troubles. Again: WAH!
OK, so the major drama revolves around Pete and Debbie nearing 40. But if this film, which Apatow acknowledges is semi-autobiographical, is an example of how bad it is to reach that age … well, then, 40 doesn’t look so bad. Pete and Debbie’s cute, precocious daughters (played by—guess who? Apatow’s and Mann’s real-life daughters, reprising their characters from Knocked Up) aren’t getting along. The older one, 13-year-old Sadie, (played by Maude Apatow) is crabby as all get out due to her maturing body and raging hormones, while eight-year-old Charlotte (Iris Apatow) is trying to cope with all of the craziness going on around her.
There isn’t much of a story to This Is 40. It’s more episodic. Things happen, are resolved, and the film moves on. For example, Sadie is getting cyber-bullied. Debbie runs into the bully, yells at him, and says he looks like a young Tom Petty (he kinda does, actually). There’s a scene in the principal’s office with comedy taste du jour Melissa McCarthy as the bully’s mom spouting obscenities and being nasty. That about runs the course for that storyline, with a coda I won’t reveal (no spoilers here!) Then there’s the subplot with Graham Parker, who’s looking for a comeback but is refreshingly philosophical about the ups and downs of showbiz. Or Jason Segel as Debbie’s flirty trainer. Or Albert Brooks and John Lithgow as Pete and Debbie’s respective fathers. Or the fact that Debbie is … (again, no spoilers!)
There is not much of an overall arc to this story. Pete and Debbie are stressed out and it affects their marriage. That’s about it. The two-plus-hour film trucks along and hits upon its story points and then it ends. There are dramatic points, but nothing’s ever really that bad or unresolvable.
What This Is 40 does have going for it is likeable performances by its impressive cast. Mann may be Mrs. Apatow but she’s not just here out of nepotism; she’s a formidable comedic actress who delivers her husband’s lines with great wit and timing, even if she always sounds just a little stoned (maybe deliberately). Rudd is fine in his usual role of good-looking, well-meaning everyman doofus. The film is peppered with interesting supporting roles—besides Segel, Fox, Parker and McCarthy, we also see Bob Smigel (the Saturday Night Live writer/animator, best known as the voice of Triumph the Insult Dog) in a buddy role, Chris O’Dowd (the charming Irish cop from Bridesmaids), and even Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, playing Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong.
It is funny. Apatow has peppered the script with his usual sharp, witty dialogue. There are some great lines here, and, this being an Apatow film, plenty of filthy talk from nice people. There are also moments that seem to be improvised along the lines of the “You know how I know you’re gay?” scene between Rudd and Seth Rogen in The 40-Year Old Virgin. The closing credits show an extended improv by McCarthy cut from the principal office scene that seems to have everyone cracking up but didn’t seem particularly funny to me, just brash.
Overall, I’d recommend This Is 40 as a pleasant, non-challenging watch, a feel-good piece of fluff that may touch upon the issues some of us are facing, but won’t make us depressed about them. It exists to do nothing more than entertain and possibly provoke some mild introspection, and while it won’t be Oscar bait, it’s a success on both counts.
It’s a nice-looking film, filled with plenty of California sunshine and bright colors that come through handsomely on Blu-ray. The clever musical score, which does include Graham Parker (naturally) is well-mixed and crisply delivered as well. And the bonus features—including an incisive, honest commentary from Apatow, as well the usual deleted scenes and potty-mouthed outtakes—are worthwhile. All in all, this is a nice Blu-ray package, which also includes a standard DVD, as well as Ultraviolet and digital copy access.Buy This Is 40 (Two-Disc Combo Pack) on Amazon