What happened to Judd Apatow? Since breaking out as producer of the comedy classic Anchorman in 2004 (yes, I know he had moderate fame for his contributions to The Larry Sanders Show and Freaks and Geeks, but I’m talking about movies here), Apatow enjoyed a four-year period of success in which it seemed he could do no wrong. Amongst his productions in that time were The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Talladega Nights, Knocked Up, Superbad, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express, and Step Brothers. Most of these films were acclaimed by critics, and the ones that weren’t were embraced by audiences.
Then came 2009, and Apatow directed the messy, tonally spastic film Funny People. His most “mature” film up to that point, there was a noticeable void in the material that kept it from feeling like his earlier works. After that, I didn’t think Apatow could make a worse film and that Funny People would be the black mark on his resume. God forgive me, I was wrong. I was so wrong.
This is 40 is described as the “sort-of sequel to Knocked Up” on its posters. I’d more accurately describe it as “not even sort-of worth your time.” Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), the supporting characters of the wildly popular and exceedingly superior film Knocked Up, take center stage here as a couple of 40-year-olds who have reached a downhill slope of their marriage. Pete owns his own record label that specializes in “vintage” music, which is a nice way of saying that he produces albums by aging rock stars whom nobody listens to anymore. Needless to say, his sales are floundering.
Debbie owns a clothing shop but thinks that her employee, Desi (Megan Fox), has stolen over $12,000 from the store. At home, the couple do what most married couple do and pretend that their financial situation isn’t as bad as it really is. Meanwhile, their hormonal daughter, Sadie (Maude Apatow), drives them nuts with her incessant media consumption, particularly a chemical romance with the show Lost. Their younger daughter, Charlotte (Iris Apatow), doesn’t do much other than provide some horrible line delivery of manufactured cuteness.
Judd Apatow was so successful originally because of his ability to produce crude comedies with loads of heart and maturity. By showing us the serious, sensitive side of situations such as sex, high school friendships, break-ups, and relationships and pairing it with raunchy laughs, he welcomed us into a realistic world where even man-children can assume responsibilities and be successful. But there is something else I haven’t mentioned yet that is the most important ingredient of all. The void that was present in Funny People and basically enveloped This is 40 was created by the lack of this key element: fun. Somewhere along the line, Judd Apatow forgot how to have fun.
At one point in this relentless portrayal of a marriage with a flat tire, Debbie walks in on Pete with his legs in the air, no pants on, and a mirror in front of his privates. He asks her if she can look in his, ahem, derriere, and see if there’s anything wrong. Is this Apatow’s attempt at recapturing the raunchy fun of his past films? Is this what it’s boiled down to? We understand that Apatow is attempting to show the uncomfortable familiarity that develops within married couples, but that same point is made early on in the film. Why does this scene exist? Strictly for laughs?
Those two questions I found myself asking over and over again during This is 40. In the torturous runtime of 2 hours and 14 minutes, we encounter numerous scenes that could have been cut or significantly shortened but were no doubt kept in because they were “funny.” Odd how they didn’t make me laugh. Apatow tries to create an atmosphere similar to the ones of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up by editing This is 40 in a way that makes it feel like the actors are improvising their jokes, but it all ends up feeling forced.
But why even bother putting forth effort talking about the comedy, when it’s clear Apatow didn’t bother to put any effort into making This is 40 funny? This is a serious film from skin to bone marrow, and it does nothing but badger the audience with whiny characters and uncomfortable situations. Did you like Pete or Debbie in Knocked Up? Then stay away from this film like the plague, because you’ll hate them by the time you leave. One problem that arises is the couple may have to sell their home to save themselves from financial ruin. Sad, yes, but it would be much easier to feel bad for them if their current home weren’t a typical beautiful “rich people” home, complete with endless backyard, huge in-ground swimming pool, and a freaking trampoline. The money they make from selling the house would be more than enough to buy a modest home, but who wants that? This is America. Living above our means is what we do.
I don’t mean to downplay the problems that arise in marriage, but This is 40 is outright insulting by asking us to feel bad for this spoiled family. Apatow brings in Pete and Debbie’s fathers, Larry and Oliver (Albert Brooks and John Lithgow), in an attempt to show how the couple have been poisoned by flawed parenting. The exploration of these relationships is the closest to garnering empathy from viewers, largely due to the solid work of Brooks and Lithgow. But ultimately, this is just yet another storyline that bulks up the agonizing runtime.
I’m sure if you draw a map, you can trace out how every relationship in the film affects some aspect of one character’s life and how one thing leads into the other and all that jazz, but the substance on the surface is so grating, there’s no desire to dig any further. Rudd and Mann do the best they can with the material, but unfortunately, that just means they complain around each other a lot. Rudd, who is one of the easiest-to-like actors working now, is made to be irritating and without charm.
If This is 40 were a 90-minute film, with all the unnecessary “jokes” and ancillary storylines trimmed out, maybe it would have worked. But to stretch this brutal material past the two-hour mark feels like a punishment. There are some laughs to be had in a party scene very near the end of the film, where the supporting cast (Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd, and Megan Fox) gets to flourish a bit, but by the time you reach the scene, you’ll be so comatose from the previous two hours, you won’t feel a thing. Realism be damned: Judd, cut the crap, and start having fun again.
My Rating: (3/10)