"Scotch doesn't expire, it gets better with age."
With his first two feature films, The 40-Year Old Virgin & Knocked Up, Judd Apatow went from perpetually cursed comedic genius, to one of the most reliable comedy filmmakers in Hollywood. His third film, 2009's Funny People, was greeted with apathy by audiences, much of it having to do with it's lengthy running time and audiences' general avoidance of Adam Sandler films in which he doesn't wear a funny wig or rely solely on bodily functions for humor.
For his fourth feature, This is 40, he piggybacks off of Knocked Up by taking two of that film's supporting characters Pete (Paul Rudd) & Debbie (Leslie Mann), and making them the focus. So is it a return to form, or more of the same? Read on to find out.
Your enjoyment of This is 40 will directly correlate to your appreciation for Judd Apatow as an artist. If you're a fan of his work, you will find a lot to like here. If you're not, this is hardly the film that will change your mind about him. Apatow's consistently good work throughout his career has built up a ton of goodwill with me, and I am generally a fan of his style of humor, so I enjoyed this film quite a bit. It also speaks to me in a very personal way as it deals with a married couple getting older and raising two girls, two subjects I am knee-deep in myself at the moment.
The days of Apatow making a film like The 40-Year Old Virgin are behind him. Much like James L. Brooks in the 80s and 90s, Apatow has parlayed his success behind the camera into making comedies that deal with subjects near and dear to his heart. There will always be sophomoric humor and immature characters within the world of his films, but they're starting to move to the fringes as Apatow narrows his focus on subject matter he cares more about. It's pretty safe to say that he'll likely never abandon his roots, but he's also not about to change horses this far across the stream.
The film centers on Pete & Debbie's birthday week. They're both turning 40 in the same week and Debbie is dealing with it by avoiding any thought of it altogether, and Pete is dealing with it by having multiple crises at work and at home. Their daughters, played once again by Mann & Apatow's daughters Maude & Iris, are also navigating issues of their own that put their own needs in direct conflict with those of their parents. Both children are wonderful young actresses and very realistically and comfortably portray a myriad of emotions in their scenes in the film.
Like all of Apatow's films, there are multiple subplots. Debbie is dealing with reconnecting with her birth father (John Lithgow) and trying to figure out which of her two employees (Megan Fox & Charlyne Yi) might have been stealing from her business. Pete's issues run the gamut from his mooching father (a fantastic Albert Brooks) to his deadbeat employees (Chris O'Dowd & Lena Dunham) at his record label. Also very good in supporting roles as the couple's best friends are Robert Smigel & Annie Mumolo.
The biggest issue with the film is the pacing. It's downright lethargic at times with absolutely no forward momentum. When a big reveal happens at the one hour mark, I honestly thought it was closer to the second act climax, but checking my phone I discovered it was far too early to be the climax of the film. When the film's climax does arrive at Pete's 40th birthday party, the film finally gains a sense of true momentum, and the final half hour is the film's finest, by far. It just takes far too long to get to this scene with most of the scenes in the film lacking any sort of momentum or propulsion. It gets bogged down in its multiple subplots, most of which provide some very funny moments, but almost none of them relevant to the plot of the film.
I suppose it's a double-edged sword because many of these scenes are very enjoyable and funny, with Chris O'Dowd being the stand-out for me, getting most of the best lines. It's just that with them, the film feels formless and unwieldy, but without them, the film would lack most of its best moments. There are a ton of characters for the audience to relate to and everyone will likely connect with at least one of the characters, but it's almost at the expense of forming any connection with Pete & Debbie. Anyone who's been in a long-term relationship, marriage, or is a parent, will instantly relate to their plight, but more likely than not, your average, younger audience member will find their scenes to be the least interesting.
This is 40 is the kind of film that you almost have to decide, before you even see it, whether or not you like it. Apatow fans will find lots to love here, and living through a lot of the same arguments & joys that Pete & Debbie have experienced gave me an instant connection to their story. But by that same token, I can see audience members shutting down and not finding anything to relate to in their lives. It's certainly the most divisive film he's made and even though I liked a lot about it, there was far too much filler for me to love it as much as I wanted to.
GO Rating: 3/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]