Marketed as the ‘Sort-of sequel to Knocked Up‘, writer/director/producer Judd Apatow returns with his regular blend of bickering tragicomedy, only this time it’s more cantankerous, self-aggrandising, and – most painful of all – longer then it ever should or deserved to be.
An odd follow-up indeed, instead of following Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s story of blossoming parenthood, Apatow focuses on a two-point-four family in full-swing. Living in a rich suburban LA neighbourhood, record label owner Pete (Paul Rudd) and his wife, health-freak boutique proprietress Debbie (Leslie Mann), are on the brink of their fortieth birthdays. Rather than a cause for celebration, it’s a period that puts the pair in the doldrums. His business is close to going bust, and she is in denial about her age, taking out her frustration on their two kids by enforcing wheat-free diets, witch doctor remedies, and culls of internet usage (although that doesn’t stop Pete from dwindling away the hours playing iPad games whilst sitting on the porcelain throne).
From the film title, to casting your real life friends, wife and kids in central roles, this is undoubtedly Apatow’s most personal film to date. Some have took his humility as a valiant artistic flourish, but really it just boils down to creative idleness. Everything is lazy here. Instead of structuring a through-line, the unremarkable story unfurls as a series of semi-improvised vignettes, which shift from the family bickering, to love-ins and make-up sex; then repeated, as (apparently) necessary.
Thankfully, Apatow does move it away from the kitchen sink and gives us a hefty serving of enjoyable, but ultimately under-fulfilled bit-part performances. Megan Fox is the token hot chick working at the boutique, then Lena Dunham and Chris O’Dowd crop up as snarky record label assistants. Then there’s Jason Segel as the sleazy life coach, AND Melissa McCarthy as an irate school mom, AND John Lithgow as Leslie’s bemused, reticent father, AND British rocker Graham Parker as British rocker Graham Parker, AND Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong as Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, AND singer-songwriter Ryan Adams as singer-songwriter Ryan Adams…
With so many extraneous guests, all of which have threadbare characterization, This Is 40 is at risk of imploding in it’s own sloppy misdirection. Limping to the end of its’ 133 minute running time, there are scenes and characters that could be cut in their entirety and would leave a resoundingly positive impact on the film’s temperamental plotting.
Fortunately, he gets one thing right in casting neurotic comedy patriarch Albert Brooks as Pete’s money-grabbing father Larry. Much like his roles in underrated gem Modern Romance, Brooks perfectly balances the deplorable character with genuine poise and wit, only making everyone else on screen is just plain vexatious.
The blackened, beating heart at the centre of the film is Rudd and Mann, who bizarrely manage to put in career best performances, whilst also outliving their single-faceted characters; who are more willing to blame everyone but themselves for their patchy relationship. Both are desperate for our sympathy, but all we want is to see them get their comeuppance.
Maybe it’s the BMW cars, or plethora of Apple hardware that fills their massive house, but This Is 40 does nothing more than mimic mundane, upper class familial disconnect. If this is Apatow’s honest depiction of fortysomething life, I wish he’d just man-up, stop drowning in bathos, and go back to trying to make us laugh. This is tawdry.
This Is 40 is released in UK cinemas from Thursday 14th Feb.