Title: This Is 40
Directed By: Judd Apatow
Starring: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Megan Fox, Robert Smigel, Annie Mumolo, Jason Segel, Charlyne Yi, Chris O’Dowd, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow
Apparently dull jokes, a bloated running time and a lack of proper pacing can be somewhat remedied by a charmingly honest representation of a dysfunctional family.
Debbie (Leslie Mann) is turning 40 and she isn’t happy about it. The easy fix? Have your husband top your birthday cake with a 3 and an 8 candle, give your doctor a later birth year and call it a day. However, even with her age issue out of the way, Debbie is still plagued by a number of other predicaments. She’s afraid her relationship with her husband, Pete (Paul Rudd), is losing steam, her children are consumed by their iEverythings, Pete’s record label hit a rough patch, someone is stealing from her clothing store and, despite their situation, Pete’s father is still mooching off their finances. It ain’t easy being 40.
That synopsis reveals one of “This Is 40’s” biggest problems – it doesn’t really have a through line. Rather than have a clear problem to solve or a finish line to reach, Debbie and Pete encounter dozens of little issues that are sloppily stitched together by the fact that they’re both turning 40. Some of these subsections are quite amusing, but overall, at a running time of 134 minutes, the lack of a build makes patience fade fast.
The film is at its best at the start. Debbie and Pete made for a charming pair in “Knocked Up” and the same is true here. It’s fun to see how far they’ve come, how much their kids have grown and the somewhat trivial things they’re bickering over. However, shortly after, “This Is 40” starts to feel repetitive. Pete bikes, Debbie smokes, Pete eats a cupcake, Debbie tells Sadie (Maude Apatow) to stop watching “Lost,” Pete’s dad asks for money, Debbie tells Sadie to stop being mean to her sister. Some of the scenarios do have nice payoffs, but others function more as descriptive elements and don’t push the narrative forward.
On the other hand, this unusual structuring also winds up being one of the film’s major assets. “This Is 40” really makes you feel like you’re part of the family. Pete and Debbie do behave irrationally at times, but generally, the family feels real and is exceptionally easy to relate to. We all have that loved one in our lives with a habit that isn’t all that bad, but irks us to no end. Who hasn’t struggled with job issues and finance troubles? And nowadays, who doesn’t need the Internet? The film delivers ups and downs at an erratic pace, but that’s how they come in real so, in turn, Pete and Debbie’s life feels real.
And, of course, both Rudd and Mann deserve some credit for facilitating that, too. Apatow seems to have lost his sense of proper pacing and satisfying scene transitions, but Rudd and Mann’s chemistry and comedic timing gives the film enough of a pulse to keep it enjoyable. Maude and Iris Apatow both have a little ways to go, but certainly prove that they’ve got some acting chops to work with.
Megan Fox puts on a surprisingly engaging performance as an employee at Debbie’s store. The whole sub-story about the mystery employee stealing thousands of dollars ultimately amounts to nothing, but Fox does hold her ground, managing to shed a great deal of light on Mann’s character. Also surprisingly, Jason Segel has the opposite effect as Debbie’s trainer, Jason. None of his bits are funny and the large majority are quite offensive.
Albert Brooks and John Lithgow have their moments as Pete and Debbie’s fathers respectively, but their relationships are so underdeveloped, the film might have been better off without them entirely. Brooks’ Larry isn’t all that likable, so it’s tough to understand why Pete feels guilty enough to hand over the little bit of hard-earned cash. As for Lithgow, his character’s reason for being there at all is just absolutely preposterous. Debbie hasn’t seen him in seven years and all of a sudden they decided to have lunch date?
“This Is 40” is just not one of Apatow’s best. It’s unnecessarily long, drags along at an awkward pace, has a number of scenes that suggest he wanted his kids in the film more than it truly warranted, and is loaded with scenes that come to an abrupt halt only to give way to distractingly unnatural transitions. However, oddly enough, “This Is 40” isn’t a total disaster. In fact, it’s far from it. With all its shortcomings, rock solid performances and endearing characters turn out to be just enough to keep you on board. You may not be totally engaged from beginning to end, but when this film hits DVD and VOD, it’ll be prime for repeat viewings. Enjoy the highs, indulge in your wireless Internet during the boring, unfunny and/or unnecessary parts, and then tune back in when you’re ready for more.