Corrected to fix the spelling of Graham Parker's name.
This is 40, Judd Apatow’s latest musing that life is a series of stress-related meltdowns and potty jokes, is his funniest film since 2007’s Knocked-Up — fitting since This is 40 also happens to be Knocked-Up’s unofficial sequel.
Even with its share of laugh-out-loud moments, however, This is 40 isn’t necessarily a great comedy — and it’s certainly not a great film.
For anyone who’s crossed the 40-year-old milestone or can see it fast approaching, there’s a cozy familiarity in Apatow’s story of parents Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), as they take stock of their family, their marriage, and themselves as Debbie turns 40.
They were five years younger when we last saw them in Knocked-Up, and even then they had issues. Debbie thought Pete was having an affair because he often left the house at night. Turned out he was stealing away to be with the guys and play fantasy football.
At least their marriage is on better footing now. They communicate — perhaps too much — they laugh, and they still seem to be in love. They also have two smart, slightly annoying daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (played again by Apatow and Mann’s real-life children, Maude and Iris Apatow), who like any teenagers cannot function without a connection to technology.
And they have their problems, which in Apatow’s world is a gag waiting to happen.
Their sex life isn’t what either one would like it to be. Pete pops a Viagra to spice up the romance and Debbie resents his using it.
Pete’s record label is struggling; the fact he turns to cult musician Graham Parker to boost record sales is a running joke you wonder how many non-Parker fans will appreciate. And Debbie’s clothing store is barely breaking even; she suspects one of her two employees (Megan Fox) is stealing from her. She also isn’t aware that Pete is in such debt with his business and by helping his unemployed father pay the bills that they may lose their home.
These stresses and more are greeted thusly: Debbie shrieks. Pete jokes. And they move on.
That’s how their life has been for a while, we suspect, but something about four decades on Earth causes them to suddenly stop and question if this is how it’s supposed to be. It’s a birthday she avoids as much as dreads, going so far to insist her cake have a 38 on it. If Pete seems more at ease with his age, it’s only because he looks to the dysfunctional life of his father (a scene-stealing Albert Brooks), who has identical triplet boys he cannot tell apart. Debbie, too, has issues with her father, who long ago made a new life for himself with a new wife and children. Her dad is played by John Lithgow, in a role so small and inconsequential that one wonders why the actor even bothered. Or, perhaps much of his character was edited from the film, which is unlikely because this is an Apatow film, which means nothing gets cut.
As in all of his comedies, the schemes and dreams of Apatow’s characters fall apart by the third act, bringing with it self-evaluation, discovery of true purpose, a sugary-sweet mea culpa, and a “we’re all going to be all right” finale — the cinematic equivalent of a group hug.
A talented and successful filmmaker, Apatow, as with almost every big-name director with a holiday release this year, is self-indulgent at this point, almost stridently so. And This is 40 is yet another film currently in theaters that will test the patience of audiences.
Apatow’s films aren’t comedies in the traditional sense. His movies — most of which function as “Love, Judd” notes to his wife, Mann, his friends, and other family members — are far more ambitious than stringing together jokes. There’s drama, truth, and relatable characters rich in human foibles. But it’s still a comedy — no matter how dramatic it wants to be — and comedies shouldn’t be 133 minutes long.
This is 40 overcomes much of the padded length because Apatow has his usual ensemble of gifted comic actors who keep our interest even when the jokes don’t.
Rudd gets much of the comic lines as the nerdy-cool dad who loves nothing more than to embarrass his family, and Mann shoulders much of the heavy drama as a loving wife and mom exasperated by almost everything unexpected. Their best work is together as they continually find the humor in their life and situations. Rudd and Mann are a convincing couple in mid-life crisis who, despite their screaming tantrums and selfish behavior, are clearly meant for each other, so we hope they pull it together.
The Apatow children can act, though Dad tries too hard to give them scene-stealing material. As much as Apatow works to create natural dialogue, the forced quips are out of place. Melissa McCarthy and Jason Segel have funny cameos as a bullied son’s foul-mouthed mom and a suave fitness instructor, while Fox is used less as a comic actor and more as a comic prop, wearing skimpy clothing for Pete and other middle-aged men to gawk at. Without having to act, this is Fox’s best role yet. Just as this painfully long comedy is Apatow’s funniest film in years.
This is 40
Written and directed by Judd Apatow. A Universal release playing at Rave Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language, and some drug material. Running time: 1:33 minutes.
Critic's Rating: **½
Debbie .. Leslie Mann
Pete .. Paul Rudd
Sadie: Maude Apatow
Charlotte: Iris Apatow
Contact Kirk Baird firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.