Directed by: Judd Apatow
Premise: A spin off to the 2007 feature Knocked Up, following the lives of supporting characters Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) and their family.
What Works: The core cast of This is 40 is relatively strong. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are both likable leads and they are convincing as a couple that has been together for some time. This is mostly Leslie Mann’s picture and she does a nice job with the material; the way her role is written it would be quite easy for Debbie to come off as an insufferable shrew but Mann is a charming screen presence and she is very funny, and both of those qualities manage to overcome the negative aspects of her character. Also notable among the cast of This is 40 are the kids, played by Maude and Iris Apatow (who are also the children of writer/director Judd Apatow and his wife Leslie Mann). Both of these young women are natural performers, especially Maude Apatow who is shaping up to be a very good actress. As a comedy This is 40 does manage some laughs and they come steadily, generating from the domestic situations that Judd Apatow generally does well.
What Doesn’t: The main problem with This is 40 is that the movie has an underwritten quality to it. It is as if the script was not finished when the film crew started production and the movie is woefully unfocussed. A common criticism of Judd Apatow’s films is that they are too long. In This is 40 the length goes from being a slight annoyance to a fatal problem. As in most films that are too long, it isn’t the length that is at issue so much as the lack of storytelling economy. This movie is plodding and it goes on and on without a payoff. The narrative is so incoherent that it is almost impossible to explain what this movie is about. This is 40 starts with the couple fretting about their advancing age but then it deviates into a glut of subplots, none of which are done well. We find out that Debbie is having trouble at her store, possibly because one of the clerks is stealing from the register, Pete’s record label is in financial straits because he follows passion projects instead of commercial interests, both struggle with their relationships with their fathers, the children suffer from bullying at school, and later Debbie discovers she is pregnant. There is a lot here but none of it is unified. In some respects, This is 40 plays like a compilation of episodes of a half-hour television sitcom. As in most television comedies, the cast is a white suburban family with first world problems but each problem exists independently of one another and none of those problems are ever presented as a serious disruption of their lives. As This is 40 drifts from subplot to subplot there is no natural progression of the characters or their situations. Most of the scenes of this movie could be rearranged in any order and they would make about as much sense. In short, the film has nothing holding it together and everything in the film suffers for it, starting with the lead actors. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann act dutifully in this movie but there is very little for them to do and they were much more likeable in Knocked Up. The lack of focus also kills the tension; there is no rising action in this film, just introductions of new problems. When the movie gets to its end nothing has been resolved or affirmed, rendering the whole movie pointless.
Bottom Line: This is 40 has performers doing the best they can but the material is just too scattershot. Of Judd Apatow’s feature films, this is easily his worst effort.
Episode: #422 (January 13, 2013)