This Is 40 review

Judd Apatow returns with the domestic comedy, This Is 40. Ron finds out how it compares to its sort-of-predecessor, Knocked Up...

Some years after the events of Knocked Up, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are still together, still have their kids Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), and still live in an awesome house in a ritzy part of Los Angeles. However, things are still not going well for that couple. Their kids are… problematic. Pete has lost his job with Sony and started his own record label, which is struggling to not go under. Debbie has a boutique clothing store, which is also struggling to break even despite the presence of hottie salesgirl Desi (Megan Fox).

That’s right, the side-family from Knocked Up is back and taking center stage in This Is 40, the new ensemble comedy from Mr Comedy himself, Judd Apatow. They’re surrounded by a unique cast of characters, both returnees from Knocked Up (Jason Segel as Jason the personal trainer, Charlane Yi as Jodi) and new folks, but the family problems keep taking center stage, especially once Paul’s father Larry (Albert Brooks) and Debbie’s father Oliver (John Lithgow) show up.

Can Pete and Debbie handle turning 40? Can they keep their family together and keep their heads above water? Can the cast and crew mine domestic turmoil for laughs?

One of the biggest crimes committed against Judd Apatow’s last movie was the fact that it was sold as a gut-busting comedy when there was something else at the core of it. Rather than a crowd-pleasing comedy, it was an examination of the self-loathing and alienation that lies at the heart of comedy. This Is 40 deals with the problems that lie at the heart of marriage.

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This Is 40 represents a continuation of the maturation process that Judd Apatow has undergone with each successive film. From The 40-Year-Old Virgin to Knocked Up and Funny People, with every successive movie Apatow has grown more personal and more mature. The language and bodily humor remains, but it has grown less integral to the film while the subject matter has grown more adult and real in turns. This Is 40 is definitely the most grounded of Apatow’s films, and it feels the most like it takes place in the real world. Businesses are struggling, mortgage payments are missed, families squabble and scream at one another.

But just because something is grounded doesn’t make it great, at least as far as comedies go. Most of the laughs come when Debbie and Pete are facing off with other characters, particularly the high-strung parent Catherine played by Melissa McCarthy. When they’re together, or when they’re playing off their kids, the result is more grating family drama than comedy, despite the occasional chuckle. This is definitely Apatow’s biggest attempt at being mature, farting aside.

The writing does strive a bit too much to be poignant and funny by turn, and while I can see what Apatow seems to be trying to do with his film, it’s a little scatter shot. It bounces from scene to scene, and there’s not a ton of narrative flow; I guess it’s like life in a sense, since life just kind of happens to you as you live it without a real narrative journey, either, but I didn’t pay cash money to look at videos of my own life. The script also goes for scenes plural between serious laugh lines, which isn’t exactly helpful for a comedy. There’s also not enough drama to carry the film, either. By trying to be too realistic, it ends up waffling between polls without the emotional impact of other Apatow films.

Pete and Debbie are really annoying. Charlotte and Sadie are really annoying, too. That’s one good thing about the film: there’s no hero character. Everyone is kind of terrible in their own way, and that’s great. That’s a credit to Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, who gets a lot of flack but who isn’t a bad actress in her own right. She’s supposed to be annoying, and Pete is supposed to be a jerk, and they both pull it off (though Paul Rudd is so naturally charming he has to work hard to come off as thoughtless). Melissa McCarthy, as established, steals the show, and Apatow’s daughters Maude and Iris aren’t great performers, but I’ve seen worse kids in movies.

Apatow the writer is trying to grow up, even if Apatow the director isn’t reinventing the wheel with what he’s doing behind the camera. This Is 40 is a staggering 134 minutes long, which is crazy long for a comedy, and it gets lost on its journey through scenes. Unsurprisingly for a movie featuring his entire family and his heroes (Robert Smigel, Ryan Adams, Albert Brooks), Apatow seems like he’s unwilling to cut anything, even when scenes don’t work. I would have loved to see more Melissa McCarthy and Megan Fox (who is surprisingly good at comedy) than another screaming fit from Maude Apatow, but it has to be hard to balance friends and family without some distance from the subjects.

That’s the gist of Judd Apatow these days. He’s got the money and clout and history of success enough to do whatever he wants with whomever he wants, and I appreciate that he’s loyal enough to stick by his friends. I just wish he had a little less clout so maybe someone would find him a good editor to help him make tougher choices and trim the fat from movies like this one. Still, middle-age spread or not, This Is 40 is still a pretty good film, though not up to typical Apatow standards.

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This Is 40 is out in UK cinemas on the 14th February.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan wonders why they couldn’t have gotten Seth Rogen back for This Is 40, though he knows why Katherine Heigl wouldn’t return. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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3 out of 5