Title: This Is 40
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow, based on characters by himself
Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Jason Segel, Charlyne Yi, Tim Bagley, Melissa McCarthy, Lena Dunham, Chris O’Dowd, Rob Smigel, Annie Mumolo
MPAA Rating: R, sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material
Runtime: 134 min
IMDb Rating: 6.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 50%
I am, like so many others, a devout member of the church of Judd Apatow. What the man has done to change the comedic landscape of our time during the last decade or so really is amazing. From having his hand in some of the most adored cult TV shows in recent memory, from The Ben Stiller Show to The Larry Sanders Show to, of course, the short-lived masterpiece that was Freaks and Geeks, to revolutionizing comedy in the mid 00’s with films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad.
When I say that this guy revolutionized comedy I’m actually not being hyperbolic or anything. Think about it, before he came along the whole style of R-rated comedy wasn’t really viable to be commercial hits and now it’s pretty much the norm, to the point in which many comedies of that kind that come out people attribute to him even when he doesn’t have a hand in them at all. Not to mention that people like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Jonah Hill and Lena Dunham, four of the most successful comedy actors around, wouldn’t be here were it not for him, and you could argue that the stars of Steve Carell and Will Ferrell wouldn’t be as bright without his contribution to their careers.
So, you see, Judd Apatow is the man. But because he’s either writing or producing or having cameos or supervising or counseling on so many projects all at once (the masterpiece that is Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO wouldn’t have happened without him), we tend to forget that he’s only directed three feature films prior to his latest, This Is 40, which is out now. First came The-40-Year-Old Virgin, which has made over $175 worldwide and started the whole thing, then it was Knocked Up which just really cemented him as the top dog in comedy and made a huge and unexpected $220 worldwide, and then we had Funny People, which people like to signal out for not having been commercially successful or as big a critical hit as his previous films.
I actually like Funny People, at nearly two and a half hours it may be a bit too long, but all of his films are, and I think how he handled the dramatic stuff in it showed this tremendous maturity from a man who had made a living making stuff about grown-ups who behaved like children. It was a film about something, it may not have had the constant hilarity of his other efforts, but quality-wise it was right up there because of how carefully crafted it was and how real it all felt. I genuinely believe Funny People was a natural and important next step in the evolution of Judd Apatow, and awaited dearly for what he decided to do the next time he sat on the director’s chair.
Well, that’s finally happened, nearly three and a half years later, and we get This Is 40, which is being advertised as the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, seeing how it follows the lives of Pete and Debbie, the supporting characters played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in the 2007 movie. We now follow their lives, dealing with turning 40, with their jobs, with their kids, and, let me tell you something, I loved every damn bit of it.
I would agree that this one’s too long and could have easily been about 15 minutes shorter, and the fact that it is that long makes it feel either aimless at times or as though Mr. Apatow is being over-indulgent at others. But that doesn’t deny the good things that are here, which obviously start with the script from Mr. Apatow which is typically funny and is also full of some seriously perceptive moments that are just acted tremendously well by his cast. That cast, by the way, doesn’t only have Mr. Rudd and Ms. Mann (who’s his wife and who’s just ridiculously awesome), but also has people that range from Albert Brooks to Melissa McCarthy to Megan Fox in supporting roles (and Mr. Apatow and Ms. Mann’s daughters playing Pete and Debbie’s daughters, too. It’s like a family movie!).
So yeah, it may hang around the 50% mark on Rotten Tomatoes and doesn’t even crack a 60 on Metacritic, but count me among those who loved the hell out of this movie. What I believe separates Mr. Apatow from the rest of people trying to copy him is that his comedy moments not only are just hilarious but they also make a lot of sense in the dramatic narrative of his movie, they’re not just there as isolated moments to make you laugh, but they also mean something in larger picture, in the story he’s trying to tell. He’s always trying to expand what comedy means even when he’s already at the top of that particular ladder, and the way he writes achieves that, not to mention that every character here, even the smallest supporting roles, is written in such a rich way that you can’t help but love them.
Mid-life crisis, the stress of work, the chores of parenthood, the problems with intimacy, those are the problems that just accumulate for Pete and Debbie here. Which, as we all know, can make do for some very funny moments, but in reality those are some deep things with a sad underscore that threatens to debilitate marriages in every society around the world, the fact that Mr. Apatow can make that as funny as it is here without ever once compromising the bigger issues at hand is a testament to his wonderful git as a storyteller.
Plus, what also makes this so great to watch is that you can just feel how personal this all is. Not just because this is his actual wife and daughters we’re seeing on-screen, and because Mr. Rudd is obviously a sort of alter ego to Mr. Apatow himself, but because this feels like the story of himself, a guy who lucked out and who’s happy but who still has the same conventional worries that most of us have. There’s a level of immaturity (obviously) and neediness and just an amazingly vulnerable look at middle-age relationships. There’s a wonderful moment when Debbie asks Pete if he even likes her anymore, and you have to wonder if Mr. Apatow isn’t taking us into his own bedroom with that.
Whatever the case is, kudos to him for delivering such a (painfully) honest film. For making us care and empathize with characters that are merely decent enough people. Sure, the fact that they’re played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, two of the most insanely likable people in show business, helps (and they are just perfect here), but the fact remains that Pete and Debbie are just a tad over-entitled and in need of constant reaffirmation and at times a bit cruel. But that’s life. That’s what Judd Apatow movies are all about, they bring you so close to a reality that it’s impossible not to notice the flaws in these people, and he makes you connect with them in such a way that you can’t not accept their imperfections.
I loved this. I continue to think he’s the king of comedy and I continue to think the guy is just making all the right moves as a director, continuing to explore new territory and think outside the box even when he’s already the best in the game. He makes comedies that mean something. That’s something that only the best of the best have done, which is why it’s so fitting that Albert Brooks has a supporting role here. He knows what looking into characters and not situations will not only bring out the really funny stuff but it will also provide some really amazing emotions to explore.
I’m 21, by the way, so I’ve still got about halfway to go before I can really relate. And yet this film made me relate, I laughed at all the big hilarious moments, and I laughed at all the moments that elicit laughs not necessarily because they’re funny (though they often are) but also because they are painfully funny and you laugh as a defense mechanism in a way. Of course we love our parents and our spouses and our kids, but Mr. Apatow is just so damn good at knowing how to explore the emotions that lie beneath that love, whether they’re good or bad.