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This Is 40 is very much a Judd Apatow-directed movie insofar as it’s sometimes uproarious, occasionally insightful, and almost offensively long. What was a minor irritation in The 40-Year-Old Virgin turned into a genuine problem in Knocked Up and Funny People. Here, it essentially kills the film.
That’s because there’s nothing new here, nothing surprising (except maybe how much we see of Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann). Nothing that, collectively, earns a running time of 140 minutes. And certainly nothing worthy of the talent involved.
It’s been five years since we last checked in on Rudd’s Pete and Mann’s Debbie. Since their mini-crisis in Knocked Up, they’ve coexisted peacefully enough. But with the big 4-0 approaching rapidly, the staleness of their relationship starts to overwhelm each of them in different ways.
The animosity each holds toward the other is apparent from minute one, yet separation and divorce are basically off the table. There’s no doubt these two will still be married come the end credits. The conflict, instead, is derived from their quest to simply tolerate each other once again. To get there, Apatow cobbles together a bunch of free-flowing subplots. Pete eats cupcakes behind Debbie’s back. Debbie confronts a boy who texts an insult to her daughter. Pete struggles to get his small record label off the ground. Debbie suspects an employee at her store is stealing.
This Is 40‘s structure (or lack thereof) is both its biggest asset and the source of its most frustrating problems. On the one hand, it’s a refreshing change of pace. In not following any formula (except maybe one Apatow himself has honed in on over three, now four, feature films), there’s a freedom to explore themes and try new things. The problem, unfortunately, is that most of these things don’t work, and its themes aren’t given their due diligence. And by casting his own wife and two daughters, Apatow blankets the entire film in a sense of self-indulgence.
It’s not a total bust, however. There are some genuinely hilarious moments, particularly when Pete and Debbie’s parents show up. Albert Brooks wins the best-in-show award here as Pete’s irritating father. That we already know Pete and Debbie is also a plus.
Although viewing Knocked Up before this isn’t a requirement, it is recommended. The familiarity should make overlooking these two characters’ worst qualities more palatable.
Apatow’s voice is an essential one within the filmmaking world, but for the second film in a row, he’s unable to restrain himself. There’s a cogent argument (or at least a series of simple, salient points) hiding beneath all of This Is 40‘s blubber. He just can’t seem to leave some of the nonsense on the cutting room floor.