THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"THIS IS 40"
Something happens when you turn forty. Either you develop a welcome sense of becoming comfortable in your own skin like never before, or you start to freak out about hitting middle age. I did the former. I'm guessing Judd Apatow did the latter, at least on the basis of his new comedy This is 40. Like most of Apatow's movies, it's a half-hour too long and filled with too many side characters. Also like most of his movies, it's often very funny. I suspect it will be most appreciated by people in the target age demographic. (Think of it as The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for people who have been alive four decades instead of seven.) The film's considerable flaws are lessened somewhat if you can identify with the dilemmas faced by the main characters.
Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann play Pete and Debbie, the married couple they previously portrayed in an earlier Apatow comedy, Knocked Up. Debbie is about to turn forty but refuses to acknowledge it. She keeps telling everyone that she's thirty-eight. Her age-related crisis is a bit more pronounced than her husband's, but both are feeling a measure of discontent. Their daughters (Iris and Maude Apatow) are constantly feuding, and one of them is being bullied by a male classmate. Pete is secretly loaning money to his father (Albert Brooks), despite the fact that his business is failing dramatically. Debbie finds out that an employee is stealing cash from the register at her little boutique. Then her absentee father (John Lithgow) comes back into the picture after almost fifteen years. Pete and Debbie find that these and other pressures are causing them to attack each other rather than work together as a team. They go for a weekend away, hoping to reconnect. It works until they get back home, at which time the stress starts all over again.
This is 40 hits on all the things you'd expect a domestic comedy to address: marital issues, financial strains, parenting dilemmas, trying to keep your sexual mojo working after you've technically passed your “peak,” etc. Apatow's main idea is that fortysomethings have to learn to accept that they've changed. Once you hit the big 4-0, you're no longer Mr. Cool Guy, no longer that hot girl at the club that every guy has his eye on. Instead, you're the poor sap using a hand mirror and a cellphone to see if you have a hemorrhoid. Well, it's true. Pete and Debbie got more than they bargained for, and their slow-moving ability to accept the realities of adulthood is the primary source of their angst.
As such, the movie is at its best when it focuses on relatable, everyday kinds of issues. One of the best scenes finds a completely flustered Debbie telling off the kid who's tormenting her daughter. Mann perfectly nails the protective instinct that most parents have – the one that makes you do completely irrational things when someone messes with your child. Another highlight finds the couple arguing about Pete's use of the iPad while on the toilet. That's precisely the kind of stupid stuff married fortysomethings argue about. (Or so I'm told by other people.) Apatow has perfected the skill of mixing raunchy humor with genuine human insight, a trait This is 40 shares with his previous efforts.
Where he goes wrong is with his tendency to fall in love with his own material. Apatow always puts a lot of super-funny people in supporting roles, but then feels the need to give each of them a big “moment,” even if it's at the expense of pacing or narrative movement. Here is a sampling of characters/actors who all get screen time: Debbie's personal trainer (Jason Segel), Pete's record company co-workers (Chris O'Dowd and Lena Dunham), Debbie's store employees (Megan Fox and Charlene Yi), the mother of the bully (Melissa McCarthy), and musician Graham Parker (playing himself), whose career Pete futilely tries to resuscitate. This is all in addition to Brooks and Lithgow. There's also a pointess, if amusing, cameo from a well-known punk rock star. Only a crazy person would object to seeing these talented folks, but the fact is that they should all be here only to accentuate the main story. Instead, they continually sidetrack it. Everyone's great, but few are necessary. There's so much extraneous stuff that This is 40 ultimately stretches into a 134-minute affair. With thirty minutes of judicious trimming and shaping, the movie could have been one of those little classics of human comedy, a Sideways or a Jerry Maguire. Instead, it has moments of real comedic insight repeatedly interrupted by DVD deleted scenes.
In the end, it comes down to how much you relate to Pete and Debbie. My forties have been much more pleasurable than theirs seem to be, yet I still felt twinges of recognition. Marriage takes work. Raising children takes work. Careers take work. Maintaining your sanity when you realize those aching muscles you didn't have before are never going away takes work. This is 40 had enough bits of I know exactly what that feels like! comedy to keep me laughing and keep me invested. Yes, I wish it was shorter and tighter, but I value the nuggets of truth the screenplay contains, and the way Rudd and Mann bring them beautifully, painfully to life.
( out of four)
This is 40 is rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.
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