Judd Apatow’s “sort of” sequel to Knocked Up, This Is 40, seems a bit more personal this time. The movie changes beats every few minutes, switching from laugh-out-loud comedy to uber-dramatic life altering argument in a manner of moments. If you look past the massive number of sub-plots (I’m pretty sure there’s a B, C, D, E, and F storyline) hidden within the jumble is a heartfelt story of two mid-lifers we can deeply care about.
Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) have reached a simmering point in their marriage. They’ve both just turned forty and have come to the realization that their lives are in cruise control. When Debbie decides it’s time for a change, the two set off on a personal journey of forced diet/exercise, parental reconciliations, and electronic gizmo purging.
The movie will play differently depending on where you live in the world. For myself (a Californian) switching to a Gluten Free, high fiber Tofu diet and eliminating Wi-Fi wasn’t that hilarious; it was practical. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of the jokes that fell flat for me will be gut busting everywhere else in the world. However, do not confuse my lack of laughter as an indictment of the film, as there were quite a few funny moments that I could relate to. Cupcake hiding, flatulent, romantic-moment-ruining Pete sneaks off at least four times a day for toilet time just to get some alone time with his cell phone games.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the screenplay is how Apatow and company manage to seamlessly blend the humor of unfulfilled mid-life with dramatic moments as simple as an argument over an ear infection treatment. Had the characters been one-dimensional, like many a Hollywood comedy, this story would have been lost in the shuffle of poor attempts to write a “family dramedy.” I felt a kinship to the characters, as if Apatow had stolen my most private thoughts and spewed them forth on screen through an oddly familiar twosome trying to navigate the perilous life quest ahead of them.
From a pure screenplay standpoint, the script has several flaws. The traditionalist in me wanted to stand on my soap box and pontificate about the lack of “obvious” plot points and unusual script structure (I think there were like eleven or twelve sequences, instead of eight… but I wasn’t counting). In addition, some of the relationship reconciliation scenes were pretty forced—particularly the whirlwind reconciliation with the suddenly “good father” Oliver (John Lithgow) in a two scene arc. Apatow attempts to cram EVERYTHING about being forty into one and a half screenplays.
Though the script has flaws, you wouldn’t notice them without a finely tuned script reader’s eye. The humor-through-crisis was in more than capable hands at all times. Rudd is always safe and familiar, while Mann brings her “A” game in a leading role. Angsty teen performances are turned in by both Apatow children (Maude and Iris,) and a large ensemble cast rounds out the film (Including a remarkably tolerable characterization by Megan Fox).
At times many of us feel as if our problems are ours alone. In truth many of us go through the trials and tribulations of our sometime confusing adult lives without fully realizing the kinship we share with so many of those around us. Apatow taps into something deeply personal in his newest film. With its relatable characters and oddly familiar humor, This Is 40 creeps up on you much like the age itself.