Judd Apatow is a seemingly omnipresent producer in the world of comedy, and a guiding light for those who are looking to break into the business of big-screen yuks. But as a director, Apatow has only made a handful of films, the latest of which hits theaters next week. A “sort-of sequel” to his smash “Knocked Up,” “This Is 40” follows the characters of Pete and Debbie (played again by Paul Rudd and Apatow’s real-life wife, Leslie Mann). Here, they are both on the brink of their 40th birthday and feeling more than a little iffy about it. (That’s pretty much all there is as far as plot is concerned.)
So does “This is 40″ recapture the fun and amusement of “Knocked Up”? Or is this a case of Judd Apatow descending further down the ladder of unfunny, overlong, self-congratulatory navel gazing? Read on to find out!
PRO: It Is Pretty Relatable
For “This is 40,” you don’t have to be 40, or even married, to feel the sting of truthfulness in the way that Rudd and Mann bicker (which is constantly and loudly) or in the little turns of phrase or actions that bug the hell out of each other. There’s a sensation of being deeply in love with someone but also kind of hating their guts that is very hard to capture in art in any concrete way. However, Apatow does it here, occasionally and brilliantly. There was at least one moment when I laughed out loud and then kind of hated myself afterwards because I saw myself in the conversation. (And yes, this is a plus.)
CON: It’s Also Pretty Depressing
By the time this movie comes out, audiences will have the option of either being transported to a number of fantastical, imaginatively rendered far-away lands (the Lincoln administration, the inside of a videogame, Middle Earth, whatever Skyfall is) or, with “This is 40,” getting in an overlong, screechy argument between two affluent white people. The choice is pretty clear. It’s tempting to give Apatow credit for his warts-and-all approach to comedy, but he seems to be eschewing too far into the ugly stuff and away from the amiable, good-natured comedy that made him the comedy brand he’s become today. (Hey, at least Adam Sandler doesn’t show up as a self-loathing comedian.)
PRO: The Supporting Cast Is Terrific
Since there’s no opening credit sequence for “This is 40″ (and trust me, it doesn’t need to be any longer than it already is), every time a new cast member showed up, whether it’s a familiar face or not, my spirit was immediately lifted. Not only does it put a little space in between the squabbling, but Apatow has assembled an all-star cast and shoved them in the margins. Chris O’Dowd, the scene stealer from “Bridesmaids,” shows up as one of Rudd’s office mates (Lena Dunham delightfully appears has another co-worker); Megan Fox, whose underrated comedic talents have already been used once this year in “Friends With Kids,” puts in time as a vixen who works at Mann’s store (her character would have been more amazing if Apatow didn’t channel his abhorrent penchant for misogyny solely in her direction); Jason Segel is Mann’s personal trainer; and Albert Brooks throws in some potential Best Supporting Actor work as Rudd’s deadbeat father. Oh, John Lithgow is there too. It all adds up to a really terrific supporting cast, to the point that you kind of wish they were in the service of a different movie.
CON: It’s Awkward, Clumsy and Lazy
What’s so fascinating about Judd Apatow is that he’s reached a plateau in the comedy world where filmmakers seek him out when they feel like their movie is “broken” (Adam McKay, the director of “Step Brothers,” talks about this often). However, his films are structurally unsound. For example, this entire movie is centered around Rudd’s failing record label. At one point, there’s a sequence where Rudd is on the phone with his financial analyst (Michael Ian Black, killing it), pleading with him about not having to sell the house. That scene is immediately followed by a sequence were Rudd and Mann go to some lavish spa for the weekend that probably would have set them back at least $ 5,000. It’s to the point that these leaps in logic (or lazy screenwriting or haphazard editing or whatever) actively eat away at your enjoyment of the film. Additionally, a large portion of the last act of the movie takes place at Mann’s 40th birthday party. This means that Apatow lazily puts three or four sequences where O’Dowd and Segel awkwardly jostle for Fox’s attention, back-to-back. We get it — they’re nerds who have a problem communicating with women. Let’s move on. Apatow seems genuinely invested in the characters, you just wish he would have taken some more time to iron out the wrinkles and make a cohesive narrative.
PRO: There’s A Running “Lost” Gag
Mann and Rudd have two children in the film, played by Mann and Apatow’s real-life kids, Maude and Iris. Sadie (Maude), who is older, is obsessed with technological gadgets (which won’t exactly help the film age gracefully). In particular, she loves watching the show “Lost” on her iPad. This ends up being a running gag, and you don’t know whether you’re laughing because the “Lost” scenes’ placement in the larger “This is 40″ universe is all that funny, or because it reminds you of how weird and ridiculous “Lost” really is. At one point, music from an episode of “Lost” actually bleeds over to the “This is 40″ scene and it nears a kind of meta-textual transcendence. (That or I was getting really bored with the movie and needed another “pro.”)
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