Film Review – This Is 40
Billed as a “sort-of sequel” to 2007’s Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 sees Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s real-life wife) reprising their roles as Pete and Debbie. Now five years later, their marriage is in something of a rut. Complacency can be a dangerous thing and the occasional contempt they have towards one another (and voice to trusted friends) rings painfully true…one of Apatow’s specialties. Despite Debbie’s staunch refusal to acknowledge it, both are coming up on their 40th birthdays. She views it as an opportunity to improve themselves both physically and emotionally. He sees it as just another number.
The couple’s daughters (Maude and Iris Apatow, completing the trifecta) are now 13 and 8, and dealing with their own issues. The youngest just wants the attention and approval of her older sister, but puberty has taken hold and we’re mostly treated to tantrums about privacy invasion and, weirdly, Lost. Where most movies would treat a teenager’s obsession with a long-cancelled TV show as a one-off gag, here it comes up again and again, and the ultimate resolution is actually quite touching. Similar through lines are not as successful, but I reluctantly admire Apatow’s willingness to stick to his guns, even whilst casting glances at my watch.
Pete’s passion for music is still prevalent. He’s left the record company he worked for previously to start his own label. His niche tastes, however, have resulted in a devastating financial blow when his white whale musician Graham Parker’s reunion album only moves 612 units (uh huh). Meanwhile, Debbie is in some hot water of her own when it’s discovered a large sum of money has gone missing from the boutique she runs. She suspects an employee (a refreshingly self-aware Megan Fox) but becomes too caught up in trying to impress her to effectively sleuth. These character traits are carried over from Knocked Up, but here are given room to breathe. (Perhaps too much room.) Pete’s selfishness leads to poor decision-making, but is glossed over by outsiders because of his joviality, ostensibly making Debbie the bad guy. Debbie perpetuates this image by her constant insistence on order. Their love for each other is constantly bubbling under the surface, but boy oh boy do they drive each other nuts.
Rounding out the cast are Albert Brooks and John Lithgow as the fathers. Brooks, Pete’s dad, is quickly revealed to be a moocher. A well-meaning moocher, but a moocher all the same. Pete has been secretly providing a monthly stipend for years, only furthering his and Debbie’s financial woes. His dad seems to have no ambitions since netting the trophy wife to whom he barely speaks. He has a shaggy charm to him, though, and delivers some of the movie’s funniest lines. A tough balance to strike, but Brooks comes through in spades. Lithgow, on the other hand, is one icy S.O.B. He abandoned Debbie and her family when she was still a child and rarely makes time for her as an adult. I don’t know about Judd Apatow’s own relationship with his father, but if I had to guess, I’d say he’s probably been through the muck. The attention to detail in the first exchange between Lithgow and Mann is impressive in its muted anguish.
At 133 minutes, This Is 40 long overstays its welcome. There isn’t much of a plot to speak of and tangents a-plenty. Supporting roles by Apatow favorites such as Chris O’Dowd and Lena Dunham, while fun, could have been weeded out to make for a tighter, more impactful finished product. Additionally, it’s asking quite a lot to sympathize with the financial struggles of a clearly well to-do L.A. couple living slightly outside their means.
All gripes aside, though, it was a hell of a lot more fun re-visiting these once-minor characters than it had any right to be. And though you might feel drained by the end, stick around for the blooper reel, as it’s a true highlight.
Final Grade: B