Written and Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann and Albert Brooks
Debbie: F@#k 40. 40 can suck my d#@k.
Birthdays can be messy but they can still be fun. The same can be said of comedy guru, Judd Apatow’s latest, THIS IS 40. Apatow’s fourth film is being billed as the “sort-of sequel” to KNOCKED UP, because it catches up with two of the supporting characters from that film, Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), rather than the main protagonists (played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, neither of whom makes an appearance here.) At the time, Pete and Debbie were characters designed to show two expecting parents just how chaotic but bizarrely satisfying raising children and settling down can be. Fast forward a few years and these two are about ready to crack. And as Apatow ages, he too shows a few signs of cracking.
Pete and Debbie are both turning 40 within the same week. Her birthday is at the beginning of the week and is celebrated in quiet fashion with her immediate family, Pete and their two daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (played adorably by Apatow and Mann’s actual children, Maude and Iris Apatow). His birthday is to be feted in grand style at the end of the week with a multitude of party guests. The week that takes place in between these two events is one of the longest and most inconsistent trajectories I can imagine. What this couple has to go through in this week is a roller coaster of emotions and events that would surely send most people straight to divorce court. Pete and Debbie have a secret weapon though; every step they take is done so with hilarity and charm, and they are surrounded by an incredible supporting cast, including Albert Brooks, John Lithgow and Megan Fox.
Structural issues, and incessant Apple product placement aside, Apatow knows how to inject warmth and reality into comedy. This could be a direct influence of his borrowing from his own life to write THIS IS 40. While his strong understanding of human interaction and character infuses this work, making it feel like a more mature effort than previously produced films, his sympathy for his characters blinds him from creating a more cohesive final product. The moments are genuine and effective but just don’t connect at times. It is jarring to see this talented twosome fighting one moment, then having an amazing night together and then start fighting again the next day as if nothing ever happened. I get that this is how life works sometimes but this isn’t real life after all, and sometimes, Apatow loses sight of that ever so slightly.