Are you ready for another peek into the serio-comic life of Judd Apatow? If that sounds like a fun way to spend two hours then This is 40 is certainly the movie for you. We've been given an inside look at his life before, arguably all of his films are his way of reflecting on the various stages of his development(or lack thereof) into a fully formed, adult human being. Cleverly he hid his deepest ruminations under a veil of sophomoric hijinks in The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but lately he's taken a more serious tenor, and the results have been considerably more mixed.
This is 40, a quasi Knocked Up sequel, should probably just be titled 'This is Judd and Leslie's Life'. No Seth Rogen or Katherine Heigl to be found, the film is probably best described as a spinoff following the troubled Pete(Paul Rudd) and Debbie(Leslie Mann) characters, who continue to have relationship woes despite seeming to patch things up when last we saw them. Apatow not only decided to give his wife Mann another chance to remind us how sexy she is(it just seems like ego stroking at this point), but he's also cast their daughters, Maude and Iris. It's a good way to save on babysitting, I guess, and at least in Apatow's eyes adds a sense of authenticity.
Just as with his miserable failure Funny People, Apatow has too much to say and not enough humor to lace it all with, leading to a badly uneven and meandering package. As Pete and Debbie inch towards the big four-oh, their birthdays occurring on the same week, they begin to look back and wonder if this all they have to look forward to. Pete's record business, where he hypes artists he loves but nobody else cares about, is an utter failure. He doesn't get much support from his crew, led by the excellent Chris O'Dowd in a strong supporting bid, and Lena Dunham who appears to have shown up only for the credit on her resume. Debbie's boutique, where she employs the sensuous Desi(Megan Fox) and the oddball Jodi(Charlyne Yi, reprising her Knocked Up role), is missing a ton of money. To make matters worse, Pete is loaning his mooch of a father(Albert Brooks) thousands of dollars on a regular basis.
There's not a lot of fun to be had in this house. Even when Pete and Debbie have sex, somehow it manages to get screwed up, whether it's by his using Viagra or constant disruption. Pete sneaks cupcakes behind her back, because she's trying to make everyone eat healthier. The Philadelphia Flyers show up to hit on Debbie for some reason. Oh, and Jason Segel returns as Debbie's physical trainer and...you guessed it, he does nothing but hit on her. A fancy getaway devolves into pot smoking and hallucinatory visions, which would have been funny in Knocked Up but are out of place here. These moments don't come off as genuine in the least, more like recycled sitcom tropes. When Debbie forgets her age because she's lied about it so many times, it's such a lazy and tired gag that it undermines the valuable insights Apatow actually brings to the table. And let's be fair, there are plenty of deeply personal observations to be found.
At times, Apatow manages to perfectly capture a couple who have been together so long they've begun to take the other for granted. There's a love/hate dynamic that takes hold, and Apatow details it in a wonderful but slightly uncomfortable scene in which Pete and Debbie casually discuss how they'd murder one another. Rudd and Mann do have phenomenal chemistry together, especially in the candid, tender moments like this. It's when Apatow tries to make some sort of larger point that he misses the mark.
It'll never happen, but Apatow is in desperate need of someone to come in and take a scalpel to his final cut. There are so many storyline threads and characters that he loses sight of what he really needs to say, and so he just says everything. A recurring theme is the effect bad parenting(represented by Brooks and John Lithgow) has on the child, and whether that leads to a cycle of failed relationships. A wonderful idea for another movie to tackle, but out of place in this one. The mystery of who is robbing Debbie's store is an unnecessary distraction, and waaaay too much time is spent on Pete trying to jump start the career of aging rocker Graham Parker. It's just not that interesting or funny. Nobody's going to relate to it, either. In fact, most of Pete and Debbie's troubles aren't going to connect with regular people.
The cast is extremely likable, though, especially Rudd who can slip into this sort of character so easily. Robert Smigel aka Triumph the Insult Comic Dog is great as his cynical pal, and Brooks hasn't had the chance to be this funny in years. It's nice to see him jump back into comedy after such a gruesome turn in Drive. Mann is a mixed bag, for the most part. She's a solid comic actress but Apatow gives her such shrill dialogue that she comes off as vain and not the insecure beauty he wants us to perceive her as.
It'll be interesting to see how people react to This is 40. Those who loved Knocked Up may be disappointed it's not funny in the same way. But at the same time Apatow's honesty and sincerity, along with a stellar cast, may win audiences over. This is 40 isn't one of Apatow's stronger films, but it's far from his worst. It's a solid, mature effort that isn't going to help him retain his title of Hollywood's "King of Comedy".