This is 40
2012, 134mins, 15
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow
Cast includes: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Maude Apatow, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy
UK Release Date: 14th February 2013
In 2009 Judd Apatow conducted a brave film-making experiment with his third directorial feature “Funny People”, subverting audience expectation by moving away from the broader comedic beats of his previous work, aiming to deliver a final product adorned with heightened maturity. The film was a masterstroke, breathing a new lease of life into an artistically strangled Adam Sandler, using its length runtime to fully examine the torments of a heartbroken clown. Of course the Box-Office results were disastrous. Such is life. It is surprising then, that Apatow’s follow-up “This is 40” should also be such an unconventional studio gambit, a left of field attempt to illustrate the domestic woes of marriage during middle-age. Taking two supporting characters from his frat-boy classic “Knocked Up” and promoting them to leads is an interesting device, and one the film-maker executes with insight and his typical razor-sharp ability to carve crude giggles from the mundane. I’m not sure “This is 40” is as rewardingly courageous as “Funny People”, but it’s an enticing feature none the less.
Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) are both about to turn 40, the former struggling with the fact her youth is officially behind her. In a bid to ensure the future retains promise, Debbie begins to enforce new rules in the household; attempting to dispel arguments, kick dirty habits and eradicate junk food. The propositions are met with lukewarm snark by the couple’s young daughters and begin to strain Debbie and Pete’s relationship further. Without his creature comforts Pete becomes anxious concerning his failing record label and scrounging father (an ace Albert Brooks). Debbie on the other hand has to contest with a potentially thieving employee Desi (Megan Fox) and the vehement protests of older daughter Sadie (Maude Apatow).
“This is 40” is clearly a personal film for Apatow, several of the key players (wife Leslie Mann and his two daughters) play focal characters, the set-pieces devised in the picture feeling like they were ripped straight from his own history. The feature has loose connective tissue, but also adopts a sprawling aesthetic, playing like a series of vignettes for a large portion of proceedings. Financial crisis, sexual woes, parental issues and child-rearing complications are all addressed intuitively, Apatow remaining both a natural conveyer of organic storytelling and amusing comedy. “This is 40” is clearly aiming to identify with its audience, using every tool and idea at its disposal to do so, Apatow wrapping it together tightly with a bow of merriment, allowing his expansive medicine to go down smoothly. The picture has a personality and offers genuine insights, evidenced by the fact that at 134 minutes the movie feels full. It’s a feature that retains the maturation exampled in “Funny People”, a nice indication that Apatow has genuine ambition when it comes to telling stories about ordinary people.
Both Rudd and Mann thrive in smartly crafted roles, Apatow evolving both characters into deeply flawed yet inherently likable figures. Their rapport is effortless and the arguing is a joy to behold, both performers oscillating comfortably between venomous instances of classy comic delivery, and more honest moments of distress and nervousness. Their marriage is never detailed as a sure thing, Apatow retaining no illusions concerning its imperfections. However this only adds to the breadth “This is 40” offers and benefits cute, small sequences of adoration such as one set in the context of a hotel getaway. It’s not all bitterness here, there’s a sweetness to savour too.
The laughs are thick and juicy; supporting characters such as a sleazy Jason Segel, outrageous Melissa McCarthy and game Megan Fox helping to instil proceedings with a definitively light touch. “This is 40” is a character piece, fascinated by the central relationship, using anybody outside their immediate dynamic as a catalyst or method of emotional exploration, no figure fails to serve at least a minute purpose within the greater scheme of Apatow’s musings. The comedy factor is crucial, but it’s nice to see Apatow using cartoonish archetypes to fuel his exploration of marital challenges, as opposed to utilizing them for screen-stealing tomfoolery. There are over the top sequences of hilarity, but essentially every portion of this thoughtful piece is in thrall to Debbie and Pete, helping us to understand their differences and similarities more completely.
The cinematography and suburban environments are brought to life using glowing, primary colours by Phedon Papamichael, allowing “This is 40” to emanate an attractive look. In comparison to Janusz Kaminski’s phenomenal work on “Funny People”, Papamichael’s work may seem a little less substantive and picturesque, but it aids Apatow’s bubbly visual style and calm editorial hand. “This is 40” is an encouraging continuation of Apatow’s development as a film-maker, showcasing an affinity for less spectacular facets of modern day living (midlife meltdowns don’t really compare with unplanned pregnancies and terminally ill celebrities). It’s a pleasing viewing experience and one more interested in grounded domestic truths than most mainstream Hollywood comedies.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2013