Title: This Is 40
Director: Judd Apatow Screenwriter: Judd Apatow
Cast: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, Jason Segel, John Lithgow, Chris O’Dowd, Charlene Yi.
Screened at: Universal, NYC, 11/20/12 Opens: December 21, 2012
Fans of Judd Apatow will be excited about the writer-director’s new feature, figuring that they’ll be in for yet another round of laugh-a-minute gags and especially for the glorious vulgarity that has become almost synonymous with his name. And they won’t be disappointed. But recognize that this feature subordinates the crassness of “Knocked Up” (not too much) to Apatow’s ambition to be almost brutally honest about the rough spots that a couple face when they reach forty: the year that is considered by all but the most in denial to be the beginning of middle age. In fact folks who were in the early twenties five years ago when they saw “Knocked Up”—about Ben Stone, a party animal whose life turns around one day when one of his conquests turns up pregnant—may now be family people with kids themselves. If they wonder what happens on the day that the dreaded term “middle aged” applies to them, wonder no more. “This is 40” is not only riotous in many spots, speckled throughout with one-liners and directed with splendid comic timing, but is more truthful about life than anything that Apatow has tackled before.
Given that the writer-director uses his own wife, Leslie Mann, in one of the two major roles, and endows considerable bon mots to his own two young daughters, we’d not be too far off to guess that the movie is at least partly autobiographical. After all, “Write what you know” is the watchword of the authorial fraternity, and Judd Apatow’s parents were involved in the record business just like his principal male character here.
It certainly pays to take side roles when they are offered. In “Knocked Up” Paul Rudd was cast as Pete and Leslie Mann took the role of Debbie as a subplot that mirrored the principal action—a married couple that appeared on the road to divorce, given the frequency of their arguments and her suspicion that he is having an affair. Here they anchor the production as a couple of 40-year-olds, their birthdays just days apart, coping not only with their marital disappointments but with people outside their home who have impacted their lives.
For example, Oliver (John Lithgow) is Debbie’ biological father, a rich spine surgeon who had flown the coop when Debbie was born and who is now seeing her daughter at a party after a seven years’ absence. Larry (Albert Brooks) is Pete’s dad, running a failing curtain business and who, unknown by Debbie, has received $80,000 from his son to allow the older man to survive. For his part, Pete is himself heading toward bankruptcy, running a record level and struggling to find a band that could save his home while Debbie, who owns a boutique store employing the hot Desi (Megan Fox) and her co-worker (Charlotte Yi), has discovered that one of them has stolen $12,000 from the company till. As though these problems are not enough to cause constant arguments, Debbie and Pete’s two daughters, played by Apatow’s kids Maude and Iris, are at odds with each other while the teen girl kvetches throughout the movie at her parents’ restrictions.
The plot is simple, the stuff of comedy, but you won’t find TV sitcoms with the pizazz of “This is 40.” Consider the brilliant one-liners that come off better than they sound on paper, given the talent of the performers. The movie opens, for example, on a sex scene in the shower. Pete admits that he is using Viagra (oh the miseries of middle-age). Debbie is furious. “Am I not sexy enough? Do you really need Viagra? Don’t you find me attractive?” Pete replies that for their birthday, he wanted to turbo-charge his batteries. Fair enough.
When Debbie discovers that a young man in her teen daughter’s class has been emailing her some untoward messages, she threatens to f*** the lad up, which brings the boy’s mother (Melissa McCarthy) into the action, forcing a meeting with the school principal that finds mom using more vulgarity than any kid in the school could dream up.
Underneath the jocularity lies a sentimental undertow that makes us in the audience realize that while we may not be as witty as Pete and Debbie or of Debbie’s physical trainer Jason (Jason Segel in too brief a role), our own lives are not too dissimilar from those in the cast. We reach a time even before middle age that passion has to be worked on; it does not arrive naturally. Have any of us asked our spouses to take a close look inside our butts to see whether they can find the hemorrhoids that are bothering them—as did Pete in the picture’s crudest scene? When Debbie asks, “If I hadn’t gotten pregnant twelve years ago, would we even still be together?” that question is not too far out for any of us in the audience to contemplate. Ultimately Judd Apatow raises misery to uplift through humor, so we can all leave the theater with smiles on our faces and the comforting knowledge that we’re far from alone.
Rated R. 133 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – A-
Technical – B
Overall – B+