THIS IS 40 Review

Maybe it's because I too have a relationship with Lost, that I still hold onto my love for The Office or that I also enjoy the music of Hairspray that allowed me to appreciate This Is 40 all the more, but either way I look at it I can't shake the overall impact the film left me with. It is easy to complain about Judd Apatow movies; whether it be that they are too long, that they try to do too much or are unable to balance themselves between the drama and the comedy. For me, these complaints are not necessarily invalid but they do prove to be somewhat easy to make. They do not take into consideration the skill at hand, the ability with which Apatow more as a writer than a director has likely so painfully made it feel so effortless to capture the real essence of life, the standard complications, the humor in everything. The genuine humor, not the forced false broad jokes that can so easily be relayed in awkward home movies, but the honest and often hilarious conversations we have everyday with one another that are so easily forgotten but just as easily recognizable when someone such as Apatow is able to tap into the truthfulness of life and bring it to a mass audience. I still like The 40 Year Old Virgin more than Knocked Up, but with his last two efforts the writer/director has certainly become more introverted, attempting something few comedians have the balls to do once they find real success. Those two early works afforded him the opportunity to do such a thing and he is not missing his chance. Like Funny People, This Is 40 touches on the bigger questions of what we decide to do in this life and why it matters and why it might not. Unlike that more serious film though Apatow lets his characters create their own story and resolve their own issues without forcing a narrative, a task upon them. A daring move, but one that pays off for the most part.

While the film doesn't necessarily have a narrative arc in the common sense of the word it certainly has topics it wants to discuss and points it needs to hit. Catching up with Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) five years or so after we first met them in Knocked Up the couple still live in their lovely large house and still have a somewhat rocky relationship that spins and turns on the way Debbie is feeling that day or what she feels she must do to her family to improve their situation and convince her they are living the dream. It will seem ridiculous to most, and I'll admit it bothered me much of the time as well, that despite presenting money issues being a main source of the problem with their relationship the couple does not seem intent on cutting back their spending or downgrading their BMW and Lexus. They can't pay the mortgage, they loan Pete's dad tons of money and have plenty of Apple devices but they decide it it okay to go on a weekend getaway and order the entire room service menu or to throw a birthday party that looks like it was a charity event rather than a middle aged mans birthday party? This is the main complaint I have with the film, the one thing I couldn't shake despite wanting to love it completely. Though this mistake seems to be a slight disconnect with the general public more due to Apatow's current lifestyle it is still clear his personal life is just as rocky and just as entertaining as we each believe our own to be. Take away the type of house or car they are driving and the majority of people interested in seeing the film are always trying to pick up a new way to stay thin, constantly struggling to get on the same level and understand their children, or make work not feel like a chore but something you will enjoy spending your life doing. It is not the level at which you take on an issue, it is the problems themselves where we can all see eye to eye.

Leslie Mann and Jason Segel in This Is 40.
Though the money problems don't necessarily ring true these are not the heart of the conflicts either. Where this lies and what Apatow most likes to talk about are the dynamics between the family members and what makes each person feel less of an individual and more a cog in a machine. If that is healthy, why it can be, and to what point we still need the independence while being held accountable by the people who love us most. Were you to be shallow about the message the film is preaching you could easily dismiss it as simply explaining how life is tough but if you stick it out eventually things will get better and you will accept it. It's an easy road to take yet the themes go much deeper. It is clear that Pete and Debbie love one another even though they sometimes wish the other were dead. It is clear they love their children and yearn to have good relationships with their own parents while at the same time trying so hard to not make the same mistakes they watched their parents make with them. That while it might be easier to give up, they have the foresight to realize its not what they truly want in the end even if it is the most appealing option in the moment.

Apatow is even so slight so as to let Debbie and Pete get away with blaming their parents for all their own issues they are having. Pete with his mooch of a father that doesn't know when to stop (Albert Brooks) and Debbie with her dad whom she hardly knows and who she is scared to approach or even speak with (John Lithgow). They each have issues at work as Pete quit his job with Sony to start up his own record label affording him the chance to work with his childhood heroes such as Graham Parker, despite the fact no one buys Graham Parker records anymore. Debbie who owns a small clothing boutique is losing money each month and is having trouble deciding which of her employees is to blame. She naturally suspects Desi (Megan Fox) who she can't get rid of because her looks bring in the best business. Fox is completely self-aware in the role and it is refreshing to see her lampoon her image while playing up some naturally comedic impulses that serve her well. Jason Segel returns and plays a fitness instructor keen on keeping Deb in shape while Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) provides a good amount of leverage and funny on Pete's side of things. Still, the most inspiring and heartwarming bits of This Is 40 have to do with the couple's two children. Sadie (Maude Apatow) is 13 and going through that awkward stage where she hates her parents for reasons she knows she doesn't have justification for but chooses to believe they are out to ruin her life. She is also pushing away from her younger sister Charlotte (Iris Apatow) who wants nothing more than for everyone to be happy. Apatow's children aren't the best actors but they bring a wonderful sense of realness to the film. This reinforces the strongest aspect of the movie; the camaraderie between the cast that makes us believe in these people as real human beings. That we could truly connect with, have conversations with and they understand what we're going through as we do the same with what we see unfolding on screen.

Melissa McCarthy doesn't make it easy for Paul Rudd's Pete in this sort-of sequel to Knocked Up.
I can see why certain people will have a distaste for this film. At some points it can dive a little too deeply into the vulgar pool to a point we don't buy the validity of it. For the fact it does have some pacing issues. It starts out strong, a great opening st piece with a conversation that, based on the reactions in the theater I was in, is a conversation that's been held many many times before and one that I hope I personally never have. The film can feel disjointed in its editing with some long stretches where it feels like nothing is happening, where it has come to a stand still and it is unsure where to go next. We will never know if that was done intentionally or if Apatow and his team truly thought it flowed rather smoothly, but for me, it kind of strengthens the tone of the film and where the characters are at with themselves and each other within the context of the story. There is a truly great scene in the latter part of the film where Pete and Debbie are forced to sit down with their child's school principal and a fellow parent (Melissa McCarthy) who has accused them of threatening her child. Though these accusations are completely true they were done out of defense, out of nothing more than instinctive, unconditional love and as corny as it may sound it is these small bursts of energy, of honesty that are scattered everywhere throughout the film but become most obvious here that make this movie so enduring, so pleasing and ultimately charming to the point you will find it hard to shake the effects of it from your mind. Pete and Debbie served as a kind of warning to Ben and Alison in Knocked Up but here they serve as a reminder as to why giving up won't always end up being the easiest choice but instead can turn out to be the most rewarding.