This is 40 – 2012
Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Jason Segel, Albert Brooks, Charlene Yi, Megan Fox, Ryan Lee, Lena Dunham, Melissa McCarthy, Graham Parker, Chris O’Dowd, Robert Smigel, Tim Bagley, John Lithgow, Anne Mumalo
“This is coming out wrong.”
A lesser storyteller would have saved the house, but Judd Apatow is not that way. For years Apatow has been working through comedies that come across closer to Graham Parker songs than Lady Gaga. The process can be taxing, but is almost always entertaining. The continuation of the side tale of Debbie and Pete from his earlier classic Knocked Up, Mann and Rudd reprise their characters with a wheezing breath of life. The years since have been challenging but they’ve taken opportunities along with the stress. Their two kids Sadie (Maude) and Charlotte (Iris) have grown into different stages of life. Sadie, 13, is agitated in her age and absorbing the stress around her. Charlotte is befuddled by the whole thing. Their interactions, and the stress of real life has made their parents’ relatively congenial relationship stretching at the seams.
“Dressing always gets in the way of the natural taste of the lettuce.”
Debbie has some ideas on how to improve things. Paul is open to them, so far as he can be. The stuff that happens to them on the way is like a series of obstacles in a course that never ends. Many of these things resonate in touching ans sometime hilarious ways. So many of these are immediately identifiable, such as the many times that all 4 members of the family scream simultaneously. It’s ridiculous and hilarious. This is a million miles away from The 40 Year Old Virgin, but it is on the exact same path.
“You want to say something, you just keep your mouth shut.”
This Is 40 describes with complete clarity the point where love becomes work and it becomes harder to uncover the feelings from the habits. The story meanders wildly, but it is perfectly in tune at all times. No story line is left without a resolution, even if the result is not what you would expect. The emphasis is not on cuteness, but humor is never lost. Apatow could make a six hour film feel like a clean 1:30, especially if he chooses the cast, too.
“All of a sudden we’re a magnet of negativity. What did we do?”
Leslie Mann is in a world of her own as an actress. Her career really did not take off until she’d had her two children, and she has the rare gift of being matronly, sexy, confused and wise all at once. Her presence on the screen is always a delight. One can’t help but look forward to seeing what good things can come from an actress who had already reached a graceful middle age by the time she’s been “discovered.” Her performance here may be a high water mark, but this may be due to screen time than anything.
“Pete: Should we get a block of porn?
Debbie: I don’t think we need twenty-four hours of porn.
Pete: Yeah, but you know, two porns cost about as much as a block.
Debbie: I think that’s too much porn.
Pete: We don’t have to watch it all, but for the value it makes sense.”
As Pete, we see Paul Rudd being as reasonable as ever. His agreeable nature is challenged with the demand that he be more present in the space he occupies. His mind, like Debbie’s is occupied by a variety of critical points in life. His business is at risk because, as his wife says, he runs it like a hobby. His father is borrowing untold gobs of cash. Debbie’s business is losing money via embezzling. The stretching of the finances is going to have a cost that will need to be paid. Rudd handles the mix of kindness and frustration brilliantly. His amassed collection of memorable roles, but still somehow isn’t a household name. It’s a crime.
Pete signs artists and bands that he loves, but who are well past their prime. This provides Apatow the ability to do the same thing, in the guise of making a movie. Graham Parker was known to maybe 1,000 people in the U.S. before this film. Appearing here with refreshing honesty about his appeal should get him a few more fans.
The supporting cast is sublime. Albert Brooks is delightful as a loutish guilt pusher who has a bevy of great lines as Pete’s Dad. This is the most relaxed I have seen him in a role. His shtick has gotten old, and to see him mix it up is a welcome sight. Similarly, Lithgow seems to have been on cruise control since 3rd Rock From the Sun. He starts out the same stuffy guy, but he takes a nice turn later. Megan Fox takes her gifts and works them like a believable wise ass. Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, Anne Mumalo and Robert Smigel all have memorable moments that work within the framework of the story. Even Radio Host Phil Hendrie has a punch out scene that is as unexpected as it is hilarious.
The performance of the daughters, Iris and Sadie, are spot on. They are true siblings in every sense, for better or worse. The interactions are so genuine, they are a joy and, at times, a pain, to watch. I have not seen either of the girls in anything not related to Apatow. It will be interesting to see them mature.
There are some points to the film that are not perfect. There is a lot less communication about finances than one would expect out of a healthy marriage. There is also a lot of swearing occurring for a couple of kids to be present for. When the parents are awakened to the oldest girl finally using them, it is with a certain amount of acceptance. Earlier in the film, we see the strangest contrast of influence on Sadie’s bedroom wall. One side has the girls in a picture with the Jonas Brothers. The other side has a poster for the play The Book of Mormon. There is no way in hell any parent of a teenager would have exposed the kids to both of those things. Whoever is in charge of set design needs a kick in the junk.
Even with the flaws, the sum of the message in This is 40 is a positive one. Like I said, it doesn’t wrap up all pretty. Suffering with a smile is what we are relegated to. This movie gives us hope.
(***** out of *****)