A film review by Craig J. Koban December 31, 2012
THIS IS 40
2012, R, 134 mins.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.