Thursday, January 31, 2013

Despite Some Nice Moments, This is 40 Ultimately Underwhelms

This is 40, the latest from writer-director Judd Apatow, is a relatively amiable quasi-sequel to Knocked Up. It focuses on Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd), the sister and brother-in-law from the hit pregnancy comedy, as they attempt to navigate the complications of marriage during a week in which they both turn 40.
Pete and Debbie were expertly-realized secondary characters in Knocked Up, and their presence upped both the comedy and drama of the movie. They adeptly added to the hilarity, but their emotions and problems were wonderfully specific and yet entirely universal, which is probably due to being pseudo-biographical (Mann is Apatow’s wife, his real-life daughters play the couples’ kids, andPete is likely a Judd surrogate). As a result of this, I was totally on board when I heard Apatow planned to further explore these characters, because I expected a personal and insightful look at what it means to be middle aged.
In some ways, the movie meets expectations. The interplay between the two leads, and the scenes depicting their relationship are largely affecting and often ring true.  There’s a real poignancy and truth to the way Apatow contrasts moments where Debbie and Pete question how they could have wound up together with euphoric moments of love and parental cooperation.

That said, while I enjoyed it and smiled most of the way through, in the end, the movie just didn’t leave much of lasting impression. There are a few reasons for that, most glaringly the bloated 135 minute running time.  Given the almost nonexistent nature of the plot (the movie just sort of meanders around until it’s time to end), that’s just too damn long. Apatow has always made surprisingly long comedies (40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up both clock in around 2 hours), but, with his last two films, he’s really developed a bad tendency to overstay his welcome by almost half-an-hour.  
When it comes to toilet time, women just don't get it.
Parts of Funny People, which ran a whopping 145 minutes, were some of the most searing work Apatow’s ever done, but the movie spent way too much time with Mann’s character and got really bogged down as a result. And here, he falls victim to the same type of problem, dedicating far too much time to fluff subplots, specifically one involving employees at Debbie’s boutique (Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi) that could’ve been entirely excised from the film, no harm done. And although they are enjoyable comedic performers, Apatow probably gives Chris O’Dowd and Jason Segel a bit too much screen time as well.
But then, on top of that, the film also features several plot points that set off the BS alarm. The title promises a somewhat universal look at the trials and tribulations of being a 40-year-old parent, but it’s all just so aggressively upper class and inane. Financial problems and daddy issues are major hurdles for the characters, and while that makes quite a bit of sense, the developments here are just downright annoying. 
Pete is struggling financially due to his fledging record company, which he foolishly stakes on risky fringe artists. As plot points go, that’s not so bad. Actually, the idea of failing at such an ambitious dream job is fertile territory, but Apatow doesn’t really do much with it and then he muddies up the situation by giving Debbie ridiculous financial issues revolving around 13K that’s gone missing at her store. She’s worried, but obviously can’t be all that concerned since she investigates it in the most innocuous way possible. 
Judd Apatow may seem somewhat nepotistic, but
all three of his ladies come off well in This is 40.
Meanwhile, Debbie has a somewhat interesting dynamic with a father (John Lithgow) who left her behind to start a new family, but then they dilute that by giving Pete daddy issues of his own. It concerns his inability to say no to a grubby father (Albert Brooks) to whom he’s loaned 80K over the last few years. Needless to say, this plot point is especially infuriating given all the other money issues these people face. It plays as overkill and makes you think “How can these people be this crazy bad and flippant with money?” 

It’s possible this stuff won’t bother most people, and they’ll be able to enjoy the quality domestic strife going on here. Rudd and Mann are both quite good, and Maude and Iris Apatow continue to be natural in front of the camera. But for me, it just didn’t jell. I think financial issues were a perfect way to go, but maybe focus on how the kids, not your dad, are sucking all your money out of you? Or jettison all the extraneous subplots and focus more on Pete’s business failings and the whole claustrophobic feeling that accompanies being a 40-year-old with responsibilities and declining health.

I don’t want to be unfair. In the end, this is a decent movie that ambles along with two likeable leads, giving them some funny people to bounce off of and some real emotions to play. I see the value in that. I just think this one misses the mark a bit. B-