A film review by Craig J. Koban December 31, 2012

THIS IS 40 jj

2012, R, 134 mins.

Pete: Paul Rudd / Debbie: Leslie Mann / Larry: Albert Brooks / Catherine: Melissa McCarthy / Jason: Jason Segel / Oliver: John Lithgow

Written and directed by Judd Apatow

THIS IS 40 – the self-anointed “sort-of sequel” to the infinitely better KNOCKED UP – is arguably writer/director Judd Apatow’s most deeply personal film, but it's also his most overstuffed and undisciplined.  

In terms of its strengths, the film certainly hits a bullseye when it comes to tapping into the intimate and insular world of a tumultuous marriage and family unit.  Its weakness – which all but suffocates its many charms – is that it clocks in a massive watch-checking 134 minutes, a running time that some sensible and thoughtful editing could have pared down by roughly 30-40 minutes to make for a much tighter and sensibly cohesive romcom.  It can be said that THIS IS 40 has a loose, spontaneous, and carefree energy – which mirrors the marriage presented within – but it more often than not comes off as long-winded and, oddly enough, underdeveloped. 

This is all too bad.  I loved Apatow’s first two features, 2005’s THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and his follow up to that, 2007’s KNOCKED UP.  His last film, FUNNY PEOPLE, was more sophisticated and ambitious than most other comedies before and since, but it - like THIS IS 40 - suffered from an egregious running time that stilted the film’s comedic momentum.  I was hoping that Apatow would learn from FUNNY PEOPLE’s shortcomings and keep his artistic hubris in check for his next feature, but THIS IS 40 kind of suffers from the same faults.  I greatly admired the lead performances here, Apatow’s pinpoint accuracy with generating laughs out of the hard and painful truths of life, and how the film captures every nuance of a marriage imploding on itself.  Clearly, this all means much to Apatow – his wife, Leslie Mann, is a main star and their two children play characters within the film as well – which makes THIS IS 40 a true family affair, but this is for naught when too much of the narrative feels like it should have been delegated to a 'deleted scenes' section of a Blu-ray's special features section. 

This kind-of follow-up to KNOCKED UP takes some of the side players from that film – married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) – and craft an entire film around their daily marital and parental woes.  The pair had their share of rough times in KNOCKED UP, but perhaps nothing in comparison to what’s on display in THIS IS 40.  For starters, they are both, yes, turning 40, which Pete matter-of-factly embraces, but Debbie sees as the kiss of death (she even sheepishly insists on having a 38 candle on the cake at her own B-day party).  Pete's life is not completely sunshine and roses, though: his newfangled independent record label is facing bankruptcy, which would cause him to lose not only his livelihood, but also his extravagant house.  



Nonetheless, Pete and Debbie try to deal with substantial economic worries, intimacy concerns, and the ever-increasing erosion of their youth by being better parents to their kids (played by Maude and Iris Apatow) while making a series of cutbacks to improve their emotional, physical and financial  well-being.  Both cave pretty easily when the other is not looking (he sneaks breakfast pastries, whereas she smokes when stressed).  To makes matters more stressful for the two, their respective fathers show up in their lives to become added pains in the ass.  Pete’s dad (a delightfully cast Albert Brooks) just recently had triplets with a younger wife and is so broke that he frequently begs his own son for handouts.  Debbie’s dad (John Lithgow) has hardly been a figure in her life at all (he left her and her mother when she was very young) and now seems to be trying to rekindle a long-lost father/daughter relationship.  Worse yet?  Pete and Debbie’s sex lives suck so badly that he has turned to the little blue pill with the "v" on it. 

THIS IS 40 achieves moments of sublime comic perfection when it hones in on the nagging uncertainties of Pete and Debbie’s marriage, not to mention that Apatow seems to keenly understand why men and woman have so much dang trouble communicating with one another at times.  The warts-and-all observations that the film makes often rises above other trite and unsophisticated comedies – and some dramas – and pulls no punches for making audience members feel uneasy at times with these flawed characters.  Frequently, THIS IS 40 is difficult to sit through, but it understands the growing pains of a long-term marriage when so many nagging dilemmas all but cools down spousal love to a very icy state.  

Rudd and Mann have never been better and are such a joy to watch on-screen; there’s rarely a moment when you doubt that they are indeed a married couple.  Rudd is an actor of limitless low-key charm and razor-sharp deadpan wit.  He finds in Mann, though, a tenaciously gifted comedic actress whose Debbie manages to break through Pete’s seemingly innocent facade by relaying what a grade-A jerk he’s capable of being while the Pete himself struggles with relaying how ruthless his spouse is also capable of being.   They are complimented nicely by the understated performances of Brooks and Lithgow as the two father characters.  Brooks in particular has an innate ability to hilariously hurl out curveball zingers that cut to the heart of just about every scene he occupies.    

There’s just so much here on display to admire.  Yet, the haphazard scripting and loosey-goosey nature of the narrative – which lacks an overall plot and seems more uncoordinatedly made up of incompatible vignettes – betrays those elements.  There’s a lot of material here that could have easily made the cutting room floor, like a subplot involving Debbie’s shop employees (played by Charlene Yi and Megan Fox), during which she believes that one of the two is stealing from her (Fox displays her ample physical assets on top of an affinity for generating laughs out of those moments).  Also unnecessary is a protracted side-story involving Melissa McCarthy as the mother of a Tom Petty-looking boy that has been threatened by Debbie (their scene in a principal’s office is a riot, but lacks a reason for existing in the overall scheme of the story).  There’s also a sly – but overextended - subplot involving the real Graham Parker who Pete hopes will save his record label, never once realizing that no one wants to buy this aging rock legend’s album.  Parker, if anything, is a good sport here. 

There’s simply too much going on in THIS IS 40 vying for attention when it should have just squarely focused on the splintered nature of Pete and Debbie’s relationship.  After 90 minutes or so I found myself losing interest in their story because Apatow seems completely disinterested in letting go of the needless and banal filler that permeates the film (many scenes go on and on well after punch lines have been delivered, whereas others strain to find a manner of successfully coming to a hearty, laugh-filled conclusion).  THIS IS 40 is, however, filled with big laughs, moments of brutal dramatic honesty, and identifies the ins-and-outs of what makes Pete and Debbie’s marriage really tick with an unmatched acuity.  Yet, at nearly two and a half hours, this romcom is too indefensibly and self-indulgently long.   THIS IS 40 should have been called THIS FEELS LIKE 4-HOURS. 

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