Review: This is 40 – Just plain old
Writer, director, producer Judd Apatow has built his career on comedic films like The 40 Year Old Virgin, movies which have a formula that consists of real-life situations blended with hilariously honest writing and sprinkled with pop culture references. His movies are funny because they almost always ring true, but like any dish prepared repeatedly from the same recipe, after a while it doesn’t seem as fresh & tasty as it once did, and that’s the biggest problem with Mr. Apatow’s latest effort, This is 40 – it’s just plain old.
For This is 40, Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann reprise their roles as Pete & Debbie from the 2007 Apatow comedy, Knocked Up. As you might remember from that film, Pete & Debbie were the dysfunctional married couple and sidekicks of the characters played by Seth Rogen & Katherine Heigl. You don’t see or hear anything from Rogen & Heigl in this new movie, which is more of a spin-off of Knocked Up than an all-out sequel.
The plot of This is 40 is non-existent for the most part, it is basically just a lengthy series of gags that explore the pitfalls of getting older. You could literally miss large chunks of this movie and never even know it. There are jokes about Viagra (which seemed a little odd for 40); there are body image issues with Debbie (which seemed ridiculous given Leslie Mann’s lithe frame); there are parenting problems, both with Pete & Debbie as parents and with their own fathers, and while the humor desperately tries to be edgy, it is mostly just bland and routine by today’s standards (a bar that Apatow himself helped set.)
Pete owns a record label that specializes in showcasing obscure artists that he enjoys (like seventies singer/songwriter Graham Parker), but that don’t sell records or help his business to succeed. Debbie owns and manages a clothing boutique where her employees are stealing from her. The good-looking couple has a huge home, catered birthday parties, cute kids and what appears to be a pretty decent upscale life. It was really difficult to sympathize with them on any level and, really, is forty years old that big of a deal?
Paul Rudd is always a little too smug for my tastes and this movie didn’t change my perception of the actor; in fact the most appealing person in this movie is the young actress Iris Apatow (Judd’s daughter), who plays Pete & Debbie’s youngest daughter, Charlotte. She steals the show every time she is on screen and made this film a much more enjoyable experience than it would have been otherwise.
Albert Brooks and John Lithgow play Pete & Debbie’s respective fathers and the veteran actors add some clout to the proceedings, but Brooks character, who mooches money off his son, refuses to work and is the father of 3 preschoolers, was completely unbelievable (and unfunny) to me. Lithgow’s part on the other hand is a much better written role as Debbie’s estranged Dad.
There are several small parts in this film that are filled by well-known talent and include appearances by Jason Segel, the titillating Megan Fox, Robert Smigel from SNL fame and musicians Graham Parker, Ryan Adams and Billie Joe Armstrong as themselves, but by far the best cameo is from actress Melissa McCarthy who, in one of the film’s few high points, blows a gasket after being humiliated by the self-righteous Pete & Debbie (be sure to stay during the end credit roll to see the hilarious outtakes from McCarthy’s appearance.)
This film has a handful of amusing moments, but none of the belly laughs we expect from Apatow’s work. Overall it’s just an average comedy populated with unappealing characters and no plot beyond “we’re getting old.” This is 40 could use a dose of the Viagra that it thinks is so funny. Grade: 5/10