For the last decade or so, Judd Apatow has brought us films that leave our laughing bellies fatigued, where phrases like “I am McLovin” spread throughout social circles and where some of his most consistent actors have gained an even greater following. His typical humor is forward without being insensitive and this film is real life more or less. ‘This is 40’ may be one of his more scattered, less cohesive films, but parts do come off well in their own right. It is different from Apatow’s other films and may not be a standout in comparison.
There is little drama to spare, but with the drama should come a more clear arch of this family story. Although ‘This Is 40’ is sweet, it plays with some randomness where some scenes may work separately, but aren’t as great as a whole. Apatow doesn’t take us on his typical ride. He highlights forty and its challenges like a portrait: a couple beyond their honeymoon phase fighting about it all, a hormonal teenager, money issues, a deflating sex life, problem relatives, and beyond. Perhaps it was too much to take on all at once so it blends fairly.
It’s hard to keep it together when watching Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, they work so well as a duo and even apart they take comedy to another level. They go for it, proudly. Megan Fox plays the typical sexy bad girl working at the shop Debbie and Pete run, but she’s so comfortable that it fits. Along with co-stars Jason Segel, Annie Mumolo, Chris O’Dowd, Lena Dunham, and Albert Brooks, a dynamic line-up of weird and crazy friends, co-workers, and family helps to carry the plot. The performances aren’t lacking, it’s sometimes the overall sense of the film.
The first half flows as problems of the marriage are introduced. Debbie is anxious about turning forty and seeks to refresh their lives to be more happy and healthy. But all such efforts start to fail one by one as the family fights them and each other. The second half tries too hard. Instead of a story arch descending nicely, it does more of a wavy line to the finish. Problems don’t really get solved. Pete’s father (Albert Brooks) is still a money moocher, Debbie’s father (John Lithgow) is still distant although slightly less so, their money issues still seem up in the air, who knows if pubesant Sadie (Maude Apatow) improves her relationship with her parents, and the sex is the same. So what has changed that’s significant enough to call it a good end to a pretty long movie?
The writing brings some life to the story and gives it its good moments. Characters are able to redeem themselves a little bit, like when Pete’s father talks with Debbie towards the end and calls her a “fighter.” Words better explain the relationships than the actions. It may not change much, but it explains more. And put a starfish in Pete’s underwear or have Debbie poke and inspect Megan Fox’s boobs jealously and you’ve got some good comic relief for this context of a stressed family. There are just not enough of those moments to keep the film going for as long as it plays out. Less might have been more for ‘This Is 40.’ Surely an easy sit-down when it airs on HBO someday, but it doesn’t wow despite the times it makes you laugh and feel glad that Judd Apatow is still in the business.