‘This Is 40′ more disjointed than compelling

by Trevan McGee on December 21, 2012

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann repise their roles as Pete and Debbie from Knocked Up in Judd Apatow‘s latest film This is 40. The film, which is more of a portrait of a strained family than it is a functional narrative, follows Pete and Debbie as they struggle to deal with getting older, raising their children, staying financially solvent and managing the emotional baggage they each inherited from their terrible parents. The film is not the family comedy the trailers suggest, nor does it go for the big laugh, not that that’s a bad thing.

To Apatow’s credit, this is the most challenging film he’s ever written and directed. At times it feels like the same kind of close-range family deconstruction that John Cassavetes would have created – only to discard in lieu of something better. While there is a simple and misguided plot about Pete’s failing record business that serves as the closest thing to a vehicle to move the narrative forward, This Is 40 really functions as a set of disjointed scenes all focused on the theme of getting older.

One scene finds Pete and Debbie debating the marital benefit of Viagra. Another sees them equally astonished at Debbie’s young, hot boutique employee, played by Megan Fox. Others see them dealing with their wayward fathers, their kids’ distinct maturity levels, the list goes on and on with varying levels of effectiveness.  It’s been argued that the ability to relate to this film is entirely dependent on age and life experiences, but that’s not true. There are many moments in This Is 40 that are universally relatable to anyone who’s been in a relationship, anyone who’s felt like they’re getting older or out-of-touch, or anyone who’s ever struggled in business or at home. These themes are broad enough and inclusive enough that anyone can find some commonality in it.

And again, Apatow writes and directs in such a way that is accessible. The problem is that none of it executed particularly well. The plot drags and the hangs on longer than it should. And the entire film feels like its comedic timing is off. When it does try to be funny, the jokes don’t land as strongly or resonate as well. Some of the running bits don’t work as well either, such as older daughter Sadie’s addiction to the show Lost.

All of that said, there are some bright spots that keep This Is 40 from being a complete waste of time. Mann is incredible as Debbie, doing the best work of her career here. She is the film’s true star and is equal parts funny and effective. Albert Brooks, who plays Pete’s father, is also great as a loveably despicable deadbeat who hasn’t gotten any better at parenting with age. Finally, Melissa McCarthy walks away with the movie all because of one scene she ad libs in the principals office. It’s a scene that is so funny, it was the only outtake included during the film’s end credits.

But even with those bright spots, This Is 40 doesn’t manage to be as compelling as it could have been. It’s mismatched tone and flimsy narrative never manage to get in sync and the end result is a disjointed, mostly forgettable film.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric Melin December 21, 2012 at 10:10 am

I’m really disappointed in both you and Trey’s reaction to this movie. It’s many things, but mostly it’s a messy and consistently funny movie filled with bitter truths and anxieties about middle-aged life. It’s easy to forgive movies that ramble as much as “This is 40″ does when they keep supplying laughs.

At times, the movie feels like a behind-the-scenes peek at the Apatow household, but it’s precisely his astute personal observations that make the movie so truthful and funny.

“It doesn’t feel that personal, mainly because the more specific we go about details of our world, the more anyone who saw the movie said, ‘Oh, that exact thing happens to me every day,” Apatow said recently. “It became universal as it became more specific.’”

To that point, there are certain things about “This is 40″ that ring so specifically and absolutely true to my experiences that it feels, at times, that the movie was designed personally for me. Like Apatow’s last effort, the bitter “Funny People,” “This is 40″ feels a little long and it’s main conflict isn’t as specific and easy to identify as most movies (inner malaise and dread are hard to externalize), but it’s overflowing with hard truths and relatable moments — the kind that the best, most hardcore of stand-up comedians can zero in on. With his talented crew of regular players and some new additions, Apatow does the same thing in “This is 40.”

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2 Trey Hock December 21, 2012 at 10:19 am

Eric,

I feel like you’re an apologist for this flat, meandering and not very good film. Apology accepted.

But that doesn’t change the fact that Apatow never cuts deep enough to either be really funny or really poignant. This film is safe, safe, and safe. If that’s what you want, then here it is.

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3 Eric Melin December 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Since you only watched 40 minutes, I don’t think you have the right to talk about the whole film…

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4 Alan Rapp December 21, 2012 at 10:34 am

I have to agree with Trevan and Trey on this one. Sorry, Eric.

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5 warren-j December 21, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Hey! Whoa, fellas! Can’t we all just get whiskey-drunk and shout recriminations at each other in open defiance of our opinions for this film?? What’s with all this polite conversation? I, for one, would much rather see everybody tossing about banshee screams and rash hay-makers than wade through all this well thought-out, civilized dialogue.

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6 Trey Hock December 22, 2012 at 8:53 am

Oh goodness. I’m at least 5 (maybe 10) years removed from whiskey-drunk.

Can we just get really caffeinated?

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