This Is 40 (2013)

This Is 40With Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) both set to turn forty in the space of a week, they each approach the imminent milestone in different ways. First up, Debbie celebrates yet another 38th birthday by having shower-sex with her husband. Thinking he has done her a favour, Pete admits to having taken Viagra for the occasion, an admission which Debbie takes to heart. With a party set for Pete’s birthday, the couple try to recoup their passion for one another while caring for two children (Maude and Iris Apatow, the director’s own daughters), running two failing businesses and trying to start afresh with their problem parents.

A sort-of sequel to 2007’s Knocked Up, This Is 40 makes the welcome decision to ditch Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen’s characters, and to instead pick up the story five years later with previously supporting players Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd. The difference this makes is genuinely incredible, as the whole tone of the film changes from infantile stoner-comedy to mature character study. Where Knocked Up was crass, immature and tedious, This Is 40 is surprisingly honest, measured and astute. It is also hilarious.

For perhaps the first time in his film career, Judd Apatow has created characters that are not only credible but likeable too. Gone are the manchildren, the bromances and Katherine Heigl. Debbie and Pete may have their immaturities, but these are merely facets of characters that have far more to offer. Neither sex is shown to be superior to the other, with both parents presented to be as fun, flawed and loving as the other, whether they are arguing over one’s cupcake intake or the other’s smoking habit. As people they feel real and fully realised, while their relationship is refreshingly complex and convincing.

This Is 40 is not short of scene-stealing supporting performances either, with mother-son duo Melissa McCarthy and Super 8‘s Ryan Lee making the most of their brief appearances. Megan Fox, Jason Segel and Chris O’Dowd also have their moments, while Lena Dunham shines in a quiet cameo as one of Pete’s hapless employees. It’s the core family unit that ultimately carry the film, however, and the children are almost as entertaining as their parents. The only characters that fail to engage are Albert Brooks and John Lithgow, neither of whom are able to adequately sell their unrealistic roles — as a re-married sellout with three identical children and an estranged spinal surgeon respectively.

For all of its many successes, This Is 40 is still undeniably rough around the edges. While Apatow appears to have come a long way in the last couple of  years (2009’s God-awful Funny People is arguably his worst), his latest still bares the scars of his weaknesses and self-indulgences. With a running time that clocks in at over two hours, This Is 40 is far, far too long for a comedy built up of skits and individual set-pieces. There are inevitable misfires, with one or two subplots doing little other than to detract from the familial focus of the movie. Apatow’s preference for ad-libbing also threatens to rear its ugly, unfunny head, although the worst offender is wisely withheld until the end credits, by which time you will likely have forgiven it its flaws and become swept up in its drama.

While still far from perfect, This Is 40 still constitutes a seismic step in the right direction for Team Apatow. In prioritising observational humour and character-based comedy over puerile toilet humour and insufferably improvisations, the writer-producer-director has finally created something that taps into universal truths and has something to say about everyday life beyond the concerns of stoners and wastrels. For Apatow’s directorial career, let’s hope life really has begun at forty.

3.5-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

2 Responses to This Is 40 (2013)

  1. Bubbawheat says:

    Interesting, this is one of the few positive reviews I’ve seen of this movie. Most of what I’ve read paints the two main characters as generally unlikable with few positive qualities and a relationship that’s endless bickering. My wife generally liked it so I suppose I should give it a shot eventually.

  2. Pingback: February 2013 – Snitches end up in ditches! | popcornaddict

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