Judd Apatow continues to get personal with “This Is 40″—maybe even too personal. When you think about it, it’s kind of awkward that he directs Paul Rudd as husband to his real-life wife (Leslie Mann) and father to his real-life children (Maude and Iris Apatow) and it’s really awkward because the film is about family strife and resentment. I can only imagine the therapy his daughters will have to endure.
Now, I’m sure Mann’s Debbie and Rudd’s Pete are not exact replicas of actual Leslie and Judd, nor would he make his children just like their actual selves, but it’s hard to imagine him writing such an upfront and honest film without drawing from his own experience.
Pete and Debbie are having a variety of marital problems and realize at 40 that change is necessary. Both are dealing with issues related to aging and responding in different ways, both have vices they hide from the other and both have issues with their parents. Their daughters antagonize each other now that the older is an adolescent too, and money is also becoming a problem bearing down on it all. The film puts their relationship in a pressure cooker and displays the results.
Debbie and Pete come from Apatow’s “Knocked Up,” but while some supporting characters overlap (Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi for example), Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are nowhere to be found. The film is much more of a study of a family and a couple on the cusp of middle age than a comedy with clear setup, conflict and resolution. Apatow explored that gray area of screen writing in his last film, “Funny People” and it too ended up going on a little too long.
“This Is 40” hits more identifiable, real moments than “Funny People,” however, so that’s a major plus. Apatow puts his keen observation skills to good use, and his sense of humor and ability to quickly seize on pop culture references in a way that doesn’t treat the audience like it’s stupid continue to be among his best trademarks. There are countless “funny because it’s true” jokes that hit really well and more intimate moments that people of all ages old enough to see the film will be able to relate to.
That said, the trees are much nicer than the forest. The film as a whole is disjointed, a seemingly endless back and forth of humor and sadness, sincerity and profanity, Pete and Debbie fighting and Pete and Debbie making up. A lot of specific scenes work especially well and in some cases are even hysterical or profound, but connecting points between them don’t always make sense.
Rudd and Mann are terrific together at making the loving and the fighting look real. That’s huge. Without their chemistry, there would be more of a skeptical eye cast upon how logical (or illogical) it is that they’re experiencing whatever happens to be their emotion-du-jour. Too much of the time we’re left scrambling to piece together how they got to that point from the either intensely happy or intensely sad scene that preceded it.
I don’t doubt Apatow wanted to capture the complete emotional disarray of dysfunctional family life, but the moods swing a bit too conveniently. Considering the film takes place over the course of a week, the quantity of dramatic occurrences is absurdly large. This does, however, help with the lengthy run time.
With “This Is 40,” Apatow continues to blur the line between real life and the movies. Obviously not in the documentary sense, but in terms of how what happens in his movies replicates real life (must I offer a reminder that most movies, especially comedies, are not like real life?) It’s a strange genre to go for a more vérité approach, but now that he’s gone there with these films, it’s hard to imagine him ever going back, for better or worse.
This Is 40
Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow