Judd Apatow‘s latest outing is easily his weakest effort, yet his most personal and most accessible. This is 40 shares many problems with his last film, like a lengthy running time and a lack of urgency in the story, but where it fails the hardest is its inability to make its characters feel like actual people with problems. Putting Paul Rudd, Chris O’Dowd and Jason Segel aside makes This is 40 a depressing and narrow-minded look at approaching the halfway point in life.
Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) were last seen innocently arguing to our amusement in Apatow’s Knocked Up. Now they’re a little older and with that comes more bickering and whining from both adults, plus their now grown-up children. As the couple reaches their 40th birthdays they look back on what made their lives so special, while also looking forward with a small amount of optimism.
The selling point here is that this is an experience that we all go through and that it’s captured with a funny sense of heart by the household name Judd Apatow. He previously directed such classics like The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Funny People. With each new film he’s gotten a little more relaxed with the running time and a lot less-focused on the story he’s trying to tell.
This is 40 operates as a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, with Rudd and Mann reprising their roles as well as a brief appearance from Knocked Up supporting player Jason Segel and Apatow’s own children playing Pete and Debbie’s children. Aside from their actual names everything about This is 40 is its own film with a new set of problems that weren’t really present for the characters in Knocked Up.
For starters, Apatow clearly has lost all control over his running time. This is 40 runs at a sluggish 134 minutes for absolutely no reason at all. The opening act of the film takes its sweet time establishing the family’s “problems”, while really only selling us on Paul Rudd‘s ability to improvise every single line and Leslie Mann‘s ability to react quickly and authentically.
The two are cute for a little while, because the film at times does feel like something real and something relevant to almost any aging American couple. But in order for that to actually work you’ll have to disregard 95% of the film’s story, because its focus is on that of an upper middle-class family that struggles with finances, in between buying new BMW’s and charging things on their limitless Amex card. Seriously, Apatow loses all aspects of the film’s internal story when he reminds us just how rich these characters are with their several iPads, massive house and independently owned small businesses.
The story just doesn’t work, because it’s really damn hard relating to a family that worries constantly about their money issues, yet finds no need to actively seek down who embezzled $12,000 dollars from Debbie’s company. Debbie is seen in two scenes actually investigating the matter, but then she’s instantly distracted by her husband eating too many cupcakes or borrowing his dad insane amounts of money. Yeah, it must be really rough.
But once you get over that massive hump you’re greeted with a typical Apatow comedy. Rudd’s clearly on auto-pilot and it works, because his ability to spitball for hours is impressive and at one point he goes extremely dark and it’s refreshing watching Rudd let it all out and more so knowing that Apatow is allowing him to do so.
Mann never quite reaches that same level as Rudd, but she’s quick on her feet and almost always has a response for any one of Rudd’s comedic outbursts. The two help give us some perspective on our favorite couple from Knocked Up, but they’re not playing that same couple and instead a couple with similar traits but a heck of a lot more problems.
Megan Fox, Jason Segel and Chris O’Dowd rescue the film with their supporting roles that almost amount to more than Mann and Rudd’s combined. And then there’s Albert Brooks and his sponging father role that’s comical and eventually the glue for the film’s final moments of importance.
Apatow has no problem working with such a stacked cast of talent, but he does clearly have a problem finding what works and what doesn’t. This is 40 has a rough start that almost nosedives into failure early on, but Apatow catches it by introducing the supporting cast and reminding us that part of the film is supposed to be a comedy. But then Apatow bogs it down with some heavy family drama that only rings true in doses. The rest of it feels painfully catered towards Apatow’s lifestyle and not so much “the rest of us”. Then he ends things on an artificial note that wraps everything up perfectly like a nice Christmas present sitting under the tree. It’s quick and cluttered and most of all an unrealistic ending to something that I thought was trying to be realistic.
Judd Apatow hasn’t completely lost it, but he’s on a downward descent into mediocre comedy efforts that work as mainstream fluff and nothing more. There once was a time when his name attached meant rock-solid comedy and a well-done story to boot. Those days are darkening as we’re greeted with This is 40.
This is 40 – 7/10