No matter what anyone tells you, getting older totally sucks. Your body slows down, you have greater responsibilities and you can no longer eat whatever you want without impunity. Worst of all, at some point you have to accept that, despite your best efforts, you’ve become an adult, an honest-to-goodness grownup, and with that comes the knowledge that the grownups you thought had it together when you were a kid were just as muddled as you are.
That’s a bitter pill to swallow, and if you’re lucky, you’ll be swallowing it for 30 to 40 years—unlike Judd Apatow’s new film This is 40, which tries to cover all that territory in a little more than two hours.
There’s been a bit of an Apatow backlash in recent years, but this new one has him back in his raunchy, heartfelt comfort zone, following up on Freaks & Geeks and Knocked Up. The latter remains a terrific film, because it’s more than just a comedy about Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. See, that movie is about those characters recognizing that the people around them, whom they’ve considered stable, are just as screwed up as they are. In Rogen’s character’s case, he has to accept that his thrice-divorced dad isn’t the right person to talk to about affairs of the heart, and Heigl’s character has to accept that her sister Debbie (played by Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann) and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd), despite being married, owning a home and having children, are just as confused about life as she is.
We have to bring Knocked Up into the discussion because This is 40 is about the further adventures of Debbie and Pete, whose relationship was one of the best parts of Knocked Up. This presents some problems, though, since neither Rogen nor Heigl are anywhere to be found in this one, and their characters aren’t even mentioned, not even when they don’t show up for Pete’s 40th birthday party, which is a pretty big deal for most people.
The question isn’t whether you can get past that. You can. The question is whether This is 40 is worthwhile once you do. Like Apatow’s best work, it’s funny, raunchy and intimate, but it’s also not quite as insightful as Knocked Up.
Here’s how it goes: Pete’s on the verge of turning 40. Debbie’s pretending she’s about to turn 38. Their kids—played once again by Apatow and Mann’s real children, Maude and Iris—are older now, a disgruntled teenager and a tween, and neither appreciates her parents. Pete owns a record label that’s going through tough times, and Debbie’s boutique is barely scraping by. Pete’s dad (Albert Brooks) is constantly hitting them up for money, while Debbie’s father (John Lithgow) has barely been in the picture for most of her life. Adulthood has crept up on the couple, and they’re both clinging to youth and trying to be cool.
This is 40 is often very funny, and the movie’s target demo—people like me, barely on the wrong side of 40, clinging to youth and trying to be cool—will relate to some of what Pete and Debbie are going through, even if the audience doesn’t take away anything particularly new. The idea that turning 40 sucks isn’t a newsflash, and plenty of us have become the responsible adult in our relationships with our parents.
The problem I had is that Pete and Debbie are far more selfish and self-involved than they were in Knocked Up, which actually makes them harder to relate to, and it’s when we truly relate to the characters in Apatow’s films that he has succeeded. I enjoyed the movie, but I found myself keeping the characters at arm’s length—which, I suppose, is a decent metaphor for how most of us approach turning 40.
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