After a string of comedy hits, Judd Apatow’s fourth directed feature has some sharp moments, but just doesn’t have the story to keep it compelling. “This is 40” follows the successful Apatow formula well: raunchy and sometimes disgusting jokes, consistently spoken foul language, and hilarious improvised banter. But a lack of concrete character direction combined with a plot that isn’t present drags it down.
“This is 40” is the semi-sequel to 2007’s “Knocked Up”, with focus on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), who were only secondary characters during the first go around. The two are happy or unhappily married depending on the day, and are starting to doubt if they are meant for each other after all. Struggling in the current economy, dishonesty between them starts to creep in. Their daughters (played by Mann and Apatow’s own daughters, Maude and Iris) are dealing with various growing pains. To add to that, these parents both have their own daddy issues to deal with. It’s a compilation of what many American households deal with in modern times.
Apatow articulates that marriage has its ups and downs, which most spouses already know. Sprinkle in some laughs and hijinks, and there’s something worthy to be seen. However, its consistencies prevent it from making an impact. Scenes go from everyone wearing smiles to four letter words being screamed in frustration with family.
Relationships are absolutely this difficult, especially in marriage, but that’s another given. Whatever is trying to be proven here doesn’t formulate well, at least to create a whole film.
Although many of the difficulties that Pete and Debbie deal through are easy to understand, it also feels like a bit of whining. Money problems are hard to empathize with (the biggest threat is having to move to a smaller house, while they both drive a Lexus and BMW), as well as loud verbal arguments that can be fixed with a simple apology. No one likes to say sorry, but with family stakes on the line, it shouldn’t be a difficult decision.
Many other regulars of Apatow’s films are present including Jason Segal, Chris O’Dowd, Melissa McCarthy and Lena Dunham. Albert Brooks, playing Pete’s guilt tripping and financially struggling father, gives the film some heart. Apatow is always successful in building characters with bite, and here is no different. It’s easy to find something here that can be relatable. When you make a vow to spend every waking moment with one person the rest of your life, it’s not always going to be flowers and butterflies. Joys and frustrations come with marriage and middle age, but the love that is built will make it worth it. “This is 40” has laughs and heart, but feels like it could use a few more minutes in the oven to cook a real point.
By E.J. Spangler