(This review originally appeared at Reel Film News on December 19, 2012.)
Before watching This is 40, I heard a lot of talk about how not funny it was, or that it was just too long, or that it wasn’t as good as director Judd Apatow’s previous films. After watching This is 40, I realized that everyone who was saying that were all of my younger friends. Friends who hadn’t lived through experiences like the ones found in the film. Friends who didn’t have kids. Friends whose parents didn’t remarry and have children thirty years younger than they were. Friends who didn’t own houses or mortgages. For me, This is 40 was hilariously funny, with something to smile about in every scene – or, conversely, cringe about because it hit so close to home.
That being said, I feel as if it’s one of those comedies that the younger generation just isn’t going to get. It’s not a balls-to-the-wall, laugh-a-minute, gross-out comedy that with broad, multi-generational appeal. A lot of your own personal enjoyment of this movie is largely dependent on how much life experience you have; not everyone will be laughing at the same things all the time. This is Apatow at his most honest and his most terrified, as he fights his war against growing up vicariously through his characters. Growing up is a terrible thing to some people, and as much as we try to fight it off, it has to happen. What This is 40 shows are all of the growing pains that happen across generations, from Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), to their children Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow, Apatow and Mann’s real-life children), to their own fathers, Larry and Oliver (Albert Brooks and John Lithgow, respectively).
So much is happening all at once to this family: Paul’s record company is losing money, one of Debbie’s employees seems to have kited $12,000 from the till, and Sadie’s becoming a teenager and has gotten mean since her “body got weird,” according to Charlotte, who just wants everyone in the house to stop fighting. In addition to the looming figure fast approaching named BEING 40, Paul and Debbie’s already-antagonistic relationship (as seen in Apatow’s Knocked Up, to which This is 40 is a “sort-of sequel”) seems to be getting worse and worse, and these many problems are only exacerbating the negativity between them.
Judd Apatow does his usual thing of keeping a bunch of spinning plates in the air and not letting any of them crash to the ground. There are so many storylines and conflicts in This is 40, but Apatow manages to make us invest in every single one and really either identify with or recognize each situation as it comes along. Each character in Paul and Debbie’s immediate family represents some part of us that still clings onto idealistic notions and childlike whimsy, all the while being embattled by the outside world forcing us to mature at a rate that we can’t handle. Leslie Mann’s Debbie is still the shrill, overbearing wife and mother of two, almost exactly the same as we left her in Knocked Up. She’s still a contradiction unto herself, which makes her very funny (albeit very grating), and I find Mann to be absolutely perfect in this role. Alongside her is the dutiful and always terrific Paul Rudd, an actor I’ve appreciated since his early days in films like Clueless and Halloween 6: the Curse of Michael Myers. Playing a record company owner, father, husband, and son, he’s got a lot on his docket, and he pulls it off admirably and well, appearing every bit the harried man he is scripted to be. But the film’s real treasure is young Iris Apatow as their youngest child, Charlotte; she’s given a lot of the film’s more memorable, funny lines, all of which she delivers with massive innocence and charm.
This is 40 falls very much in line with Apatow’s previous movies, as well as those he’s either produced or only written; a lot of his comedy comes from immaturity and awkwardness, and he uses both of those in this film to make his own personal statement on growing older. It moves at a slower pace than the faster-paced comedies of today’s cinema, but it is also a figurative slowdown which emphasizes the film’s point: by the time we’re forced to grow up, we wonder where our lives have gone and whether we can get some of that joy back. This is 40 stands as one of Judd Apatow’s best movies, if not his best and most mature. The thing is, growing old is very funny; it only needs a little exaggeration to make it grinningly, laughingly hilarious, and Apatow does it in his own inimitable way.