Film review: This is 40

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Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd navigate domestic harmony in the comedy drama This is 40. Universal Pictures. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd navigate domestic harmony in the comedy drama This is 40. Universal Pictures.

Let’s stay together: Judd Apatow’s This is 40 mirrors real life

There’s a lot going on in writer-director Judd Apatow’s This is 40, including bickering siblings, failing businesses, grand theft, and one or two big surprises. Perhaps this is Apatow’s achievement: He’s made a watchable movie in which the emotional content mirrors real life so closely he doesn’t need a conventional narrative. The ups and downs of human existence are plenty.

All that is a roundabout way of saying that Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), characters who appeared in Apatow’s much funnier Knocked Up, seem like people we could know, befriend, and at some point want to strangle. There’s enough serious stuff in This is 40 to make the toes curl. In fact, it’s more like a funny drama than it is a serious comedy.

The problems Pete and Debbie face are first-world problems. No one is moments from being homeless or in danger of dying because they don’t have health insurance. But Pete and Debbie’s problems are real to them even if occasionally one wants to yell, “Stop lying about your age. People who do that are stupid!”

The more interesting aspect of This is 40 is Apatow’s vision. He may be the first mainstream filmmaker to live totally and completely openly. He’s not just open in a Woody Allen I’ll-talk-about-my-movies-as-they-relate-to-my-life sort of way; Apatow’s movies are his life.

In a recent interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Apatow talked about the reason he makes films the way he does, and how his upbringing—his parents divorced when he was 12—formed his filmmaking worldview, in which, damn it, families should stay together. Family is impor-
tant, and nothing is breaking it up.

That’s why Mann, Apatow’s wife, is in his films, as are their kids, who play Mann and Rudd’s kids in This is 40. This my-life-is-movie-fodder stuff is fascinating.

If only watching the movie were as compelling as listening to Apatow talk about his life on radio. That’s not to say This is 40 isn’t good—and it isn’t really his personal life on screen—but it is a highly personal piece of filmmaking and your appreciation of it will depend on how much you identify with Apatow’s worldview.

There are fun, albeit brief, supporting performances from Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segal, Robert Smigel, and Chris O’Dowd. Megan Fox sends herself up while achieving the desired comic effect in some back-and-forth with Mann.

And that leaves Rudd and Mann, who have the difficult task of making people likeable who aren’t so likeable. Rudd, as always, does well. Mann deserves credit for making Debbie a rounded person in the viper’s nest that is her family, and we can see Debbie strain to be nice to her husband, children, father, and father-in-law even when she clearly wants to bash their heads in (with good reason). In fact, how they all haven’t murdered each other is a mystery.

But they haven’t murdered each other. And if in five years Apatow makes another sort-of sequel with these characters, it will be worth checking out.

 

This is 40 R, 134 minutes

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX

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