'This is 40' might get better with age
05:00 AM, Dec 20, 2012
Give it plenty of points for brutal honesty.
But This is 40 (**1/2 out of four; rated R; opening Friday nationwide) could have used more laughsespecially knowing it was written and directed by film comedy master Judd Apatow. Given the comic timing of the charming lead actorsPaul Rudd and Leslie Mannin a sequel of sorts to 2007’s hilarious Knocked Up, comic expectations are high. Instead, the comedy in this rambling semi-autobiographical account is uneven.
The movie is not so much a cohesive story as a series of scenes, a collection of ideas that fall under the heading of an overarching theme: marriage in middle age.
Ostensibly it covers a week in the life of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), who have two bright daughters, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), a beautiful home and more fortune than most. But under the glossy veneer, there are problems.
Paul’s indie record label is teetering on bankruptcy. He has been secretly giving his father (Albert Brooks) infusions of cash. For her part, Debbie, who owns a clothing boutique, suspects one of her employees (Megan Fox) may be stealing. She is attempting to bridge an emotional estrangement with her distant father (John Lithgow).
It’s a dicey proposition to make a privileged life seem relatable. The complicated problems involving their aging parents and clashes with their children are more universal issues.
Dicier still is humorously and authentically documenting the annoyances that rankle every married couple.
Better are the more human moments that get funnier in their absurdity. After a fight, Debbie and Pete laugh about how much they hate each other and mockingly explain how they would annihilate one another. Debbie’s suggestiona slow poisoningis so bizarrely detailed that it grows hilarious.
This is director Judd Apatow’s least consistently funny movie, after a string of winnersThe 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Funny People. But even an inconsistent comedy by Apatow is better than most.
There are undeniable laughs that center around Debbie’s repeated insistence that she’s 38 (when she’s just turned 40) and comical turns by supporting players like Chris O’Dowd as one of Pete’s employees and Jason Segel as Debbie’s personal trainer. Rudd is always a likable screen presence and Mann is appealing as well. But their continual bickering over the cupcakes he sneaks, for instance, while mildly entertaining, does not make for many laughs.
In one of the more humorous segments, they learn that their daughter is being harassed on Facebook by a boy in her class, who Debbie insists resembles Tom Petty. This leads to a cringingly funny altercation between Mann and the boy’s mom (Melissa McCarthy). Moments of improvisation are woven into the story, and Mann, Rudd and McCarthy are masters at it.
There are moments of perception and sweetness, as per usual with Apatow movies. It’s just too bad the movie’s trajectory is formless and jokes built around petty marital resentments sometimes fall flat.