Writer/director Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 gives us an update in the life of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, aka Mrs. Judd Apatow), whom we first met in 2007’s Knocked Up.
It’s a few years later and their daughters Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow, real-life daughters of Apatow and Mann) are now 13 and 8. Pete’s record label is dying due to nobody buying non-digital music anymore, especially from long-past-their-prime bands. Debbie’s clothing boutique is in financial trouble as well; seems one of her employees may be stealing thousands of dollars. These troubles only add to the already dismal state of their marriage, and each’s reluctance to turning the dreaded four-O.
Rudd and Mann slip back into their established roles with ease and both give their all to the material, particularly Mann. I can only imagine how bizarrely surreal it must have been for her to act out somewhat semi-autobiographical scenes of her own life alongside her own children but with a different husband, while being directed by her real husband. Chew on that for a minute.
Still wondering if this part was inspired by actual events.
Maude and Iris Apatow also fit in nicely, though at times Maude seems a bit over-the-top with all the teenage angst (but then, as a former 13-year old girl, I’d say it’s actually pretty spot-on. Sorry Mom and Dad).
The movie is stocked to the brim with familiar faces from Club Apatow (Jason Segel, Charlyne Yi), people from Bridesmaids (Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd), and countless cameos (I won’t spoil them).
There’s plenty of star power to go around in this one, and everyone’s game.
It’s no secret that Apatow is a big fan of a spic and span cutting room floor as his films generally clock in well past the two-hour mark, but the running time is painfully obvious in This Is 40. I checked my watch more than twice, noticed a few fellow theatergoers dozing off and saw two walking out about 90 minutes in.
Apatow is at that point in his career where his track record and box office draw allow him to pretty much do whatever he wants, no matter how self-indulgent or inflated. It would have helped if one of the three credited editors had the balls to say, “You know, maybe we can cut this part” or “You know, we really need to save some stuff for the Director’s Cut of the DVD because right now the theatrical release is the Director’s Cut.”
The movie is marketed as a comedy, and while there are a few laughs (many of which can be seen in the trailer), for the most part, it’s a downer of a drama. A downer of a drama that drags and drags and then drags some more. Much of this is due to endless subplots that seem to exist only for showcasing extended cameos: Albert Brooks and John Lithgow (both on-point as always) as Pete and Debbie’s respective fathers, Megan Fox (surprisingly effective in a comedic role though still being required to get spend most of her time half-naked) as Debbie’s employee, and Melissa “I’m in everything” McCarthy (surprisingly not as funny as you’d expect—though I fault the lazy one-note writing of her character) who plays the mother of school bully.
Yes, I said Megan Fox is surprisingly effective in a comedic role. And yes guys, I said she’s half-naked a lot.
Because there are so many things going on, it’s hard to tell what the main focus of the film is. Pete and Debbie’s failing relationship? Their business troubles? Dealing with raising children in the age of Facebook and iPhones? Their awful fathers? It could be argued that Apatow’s point is that grown-up real life (or his version of grown-up real life anyway) is not one specific thing, but an infinite series of events and conflicts. But did we really need to see ALL of them?
As supporting characters in Knocked Up, Pete and Debbie worked, their jaded, married with children life contrasted well with Ben and Alison’s situation. In This is 40, however, they are insufferable. While the real-life Rudd and Mann are likable people, Pete and Debbie are the polar opposite. Both are extremely selfish, narcissistic, and immature. They hurl insults and f-bombs at each other at every turn. The only times this couple are not bickering, yelling, or putting each other down is when they are having sex, high, or teaming up to gang up on someone else. It makes the viewer wonder how these two people ever fell in love in the first place. With every passing moment, it becomes more and more evident that maybe this wasn’t a story that needed revisiting.
It’s clear Apatow is attempting to make some kind of statement on marriage, children, and aging but it’s never clear what exactly that statement is. My best guess would be: It’s depressing as hell but can sometimes be fun when there’s blowjobs and marijuana, but mostly, it’s depressing as hell. So depressing, that two scenes are entirely devoted to the characters discussing in great detail how they fantasize about their spouse dying, including killing the other themselves, as if this a completely normal thing that all couples do.
“Sometimes I imagine strangling you until you turn blue and it makes me so happy.”
Call me a hopeless romantic, but I’d like to think that films involving a struggling relationship should make the viewer root for the couple to work it out and fall more in love at the end, not want to scream “Jesus, just get a damn divorce already so I can go home!”
Speaking of Ben and Alison, I know part of my desire to see this “sort of sequel” (as it is advertised) was to get an update on those characters we’ve already previously invested two plus hours in. Are they still together? Did they get married? How’s parenthood going for them? How is Alison coping at E! since Ryan Seacrest sold his soul to the devil and unleashed the Kardashians onto the world? We never get an answer to these questions. There is hardly a mention of them at all, save for a blink-and-you-miss-it glimpse of Katherine Heigl in a background photo and Pete casually mentioning that Ben gave him some pot cookies a year ago. For a film so overinflated with unnecessary subplots, it’s odd that the one the audience would be most interested in it spending a little time on is so glossed over. It’s never even explained why the characters do not attend Pete’s birthday party.
“Hi, remember us? No? Okay, well, we’ll just be over here then.”
Much of the movie focuses on Pete and Debbie’s financial troubles, however it’s kind of difficult for anyone not named Beyonce or Jay Z to feel very sorry for them seeing as how they live in a huge, gorgeous house, drive a BMW and Lexus, and can still afford to go to five-star resorts and order the entire room service menu.
It’s another indication that the years and millions since Apatow hit the big time have rendered him a leeetle out of touch with the 99%.
Now, it is almost believable that Pete and Debbie have grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle and haven’t yet faced the fact that they can no longer sustain it, but then you wonder how much they could have possibly made when business was booming for Pete’s small, independent record label and Debbie’s clothing boutique.
I was looking forward to this one but left the theater frustrated, sleepy, and disappointed. Unless you’re a hardcore Apatow fan, you will too. Skip this self-indulgent mess.
This is you attempting to watch this movie.
Take a Drink: every time a character mentions turning/being 40 years old.
Take a Drink: whenever Debbie sneaks a cigarette.
Take a Drink: whenever Pete sneaks a cupcake.
Take a Drink: at every Lost mention.
Take a Drink: whenever Pete’s father mixes up the names of his triplets.
Take a Drink: every time someone drops an F-bomb—no wait, don’t do that one (there are way too many to come out of it alive).
Take a Drink: whenever a song from the 90’s plays.
Take a Drink: if you feel old when the kids are confused by their dad’s music (Alice in Chains).
Do a Shot: every time you see Justin Bieber in a photo.
Last call: The Melissa McCarthy scene gets a bit of a redemption as a closing credits outtake and is much funnier with Rudd and Mann’s reaction shots.