Quick word of advice, if MEGAN FOX is one of the most likeable people in your movie, you have a problem on your hands.
I’ve been a bit torn on Judd Apatow for a long time now. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Superbad, Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin when I first saw them, but I was fairly young when they first came out and subsequent viewings have changed my opinion outright. Apatow definitely has his own brand of comedy which has been applied to a huge number of comedies over the past five years or so, but when it comes to the director’s chair, This Is 40 is only his fourth feature-length film. Not only that but it comes on the heels of his last-helmed project, Funny People, which at the time was his least critically and financially successful film. It so happened that it was also his most “Mature” film that he had made at the time, which would have given most producers the sense that maturity is not Apatow’s strong point as a director, nor is it what his fan base is interested in seeing. Subtitled “The Sort-Of Sequel to Knocked Up”, This Is 40 could have been a much-needed return to normalcy for Apatow after this disappointment of Funny People (Which I really did not care for whatsoever). Instead, This Is 40 rapidly shifts between endearingly earnest and incredibly unlikable to produce one of the most profoundly unpleasant viewing experiences I’ve had all year.
As the subtitle suggests, This Is 40 follows the struggles of Katherine Heigl’s sister, Debbie (Leslie Mann), her husband Pete (Paul Rudd) and their two girls, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow). Unlike most films which have a visible conflict presented to it’s main characters, the scourge of This Is 40 is the horrible turn life seems to take once you’re over the hill. In this case, that includes financial difficulties galore courtesy of Pete’s mooching father (Albert Brooks), the declining profitability of Pete’s record label (whodathunk?) and the internal theft of money from Debbie’s clothing store. On top of that, there are also the usual issues associated with marriage and the raising of a tennage daughter.
Before diving into the characters, I’d like to make one quick note about the plot: While the central family was present in Knocked Up, neither Seth Rogen nor Katherine Heigl make a single cameo appearance, let alone playing any sort of significant part in the movie. In fact, they aren’t even mentioned. Now I understand the desire to give the film an identity of it’s own by keeping the focus on the new family, even though it would have been a nice nod to fans of the previous film. The fact that they aren’t even mentioned is incredibly strange, seeing as the two couples seemed to have become so close during Knocked Up. It’s as if they both died, and bringing it up would have been too painful for even Apatow to consider whilst writing the script.
Giving this section it’s due would take far too long, as there are just so goddamn many. Might as well start with Pete and Debbie though. Honestly, I thought that they were simultaneously the worst and the best part of the movie. Rudd and Mann certainly have a lot of chemistry, and some of the sweetest, most enjoyable scenes of the film occur when the two of them are alone, just talking to each other. The semi-toungue-in-cheek banter followed by eating hash cookies in a hotel was probably the best scene in the entire movie in my opinion. Unfortunately, Apatow tries to make their characters as grounded in real life as possible for the most part, and “grounded in real life” translates to “angry, trapped, and miserable” for the most part.
This gets even worse when family is dragged into the picture, and while young Charlotte may have provided some welcome innocent sweetness, the same can’t be said about Sadie. Sure, I realize that most 13 year old girls are incredibly rude to their parents, addicted to technology and obsessed with boys, but do they also feel the need to shout everything they say in the least subtle expression of “angst” imaginable? Admittedly, I would be pretty upset if my parents gave me the same set of over-protective rules that Pete and Debbie eventually put in place, but I’d like to think I wouldn’t be that annoying about it.
Ever since his freaks and geeks days, Judd Apatow’s writing style has always been his strongest and most distinguishing feature as a film maker. While some of his work borders on excessive overuse of the potty-mouthed Bromance frame, he still usual has a way of injecting a lot of emotionally raw characters with enough comedy to make sure that the audience is entertained while they are being drawn into the lives of the people on screen. While Knocked Up did this extremely well, This Is 40 just does not have enough humor to offset the crushing obnoxiousness of it’s subject matter. I understand the desire to portray middle aged life accurately, but that doesn’t mean it’s the least bit enjoyable or relatable to me as a 20 year old.
Aside from being depressing though, the movie just didn’t feel that well written in the first place. The dialogue is all there for the most part, but there are far too many plot lines that are introduced only to not be given any sort of resolution. On top of that, the movie ends it’s roller coaster ride of emotions on a positive note that feels unearned, as if you took the characters at their lowest point, slapped a band-aid on it and claimed that it’s all better now.
The Verdict: 5.5/10 Nothing Special
+ Well acted and occasionally very sweet
– Huge imbalance of humor and serious subject matter
– Characters are often just flat out unlikable and difficult to watch for such a long run time
– Complete and unexplained absence of Rogen and Heigl
Black Sheep Reviews: 3.5/5
The Code is Zeek: 2.5/5
Entertainment Maven: (Funny, but flawed)