(by Dustin Putman
"This Is 40" tells an affecting, at times blisteringly amusing, story of a married couple facing the horror and humiliation of turning an age where care-free youth has been replaced by breast and rectal exams. There is pain in the day-to-day trials and travails of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) because the material is so authentic—not only about approaching middle-age, but about the pressures of careers, long-term relationships, and parenting. By the time Pete and Debbie have escaped for a romantic weekend getaway and reconciled their disagreements, the viewer is satisfied with what has been seen and prepare for the movie's wrap-up. The problem is that "This Is 40" is 135 minutes, and the narrative has seemingly run its course in the first forty-five. One might ask, what could possibly take up the remaining hour and a half? The answer: a whole lot of screeching, yelling, aimless subplots, and general wandering-about. Writer-director Judd Apatow is notorious for not knowing how to judiciously edit his films, and it has gotten to the point with 2009's "Funny People" and now "This Is 40" where his work is irrevocably suffering because of it. Article continues below
Set during an eventful week that seems to last approximately fifty-four days, longtime married couple Pete and Debbie are both suffering the indignities of turning 40. While Debbie has lied about her age for so long that it's beginning to trip her up in everyday life, Pete seems to be taking it in slightly easier stride, preoccupied instead with professional struggles—he's a retro record label producer—he thought he would have figured out by the time he was of a certain age. The two of them decide that some changes are in order. They want to start exercising. Pete wants to eat better. Debbie wants to quit smoking. They want to pull their kids, increasingly rebellious 12-year-old Sadie (Maude Apatow) and 8-year-old Charlotte (Iris Apatow), away from their reliance on electronic devices and become closer as a family. Naturally, their plans are a disaster, but through it all Pete and Debbie promise to better communicate with each other. That, too, is easier said than followed through with.
Judd Apatow is well-known for combining raunchy comedic material with a relatable human sweetness, but "This Is 40" more closely resembles an insipid production from a lesser director who wants to ape Apatow's style. The film's biggest laughs arrive during outtakes of Melissa McCarthy (2011's "Bridesmaids") ad-libbing during the end-credits scroll, and if there is one sign that a comedy has failed, it is end credits being the highlight of a picture. Also particularly grating is the lack of a narrative through-line; Pete and Debbie spar, grapple with their birthday blues, and make amends all before the first hour is up. There's nowhere left to go, and yet Apatow insists on stretching these characters and their lives to the breaking point with another ninety minutes of throwaway fodder. Subplots go nowhere, from the aforementioned scenes involving McCarthy's vengeful mother and her bratty son (Ryan Lee), to Sadie's obsession over "Lost," to clothes store owner Debbie's sleuthing over which one of her employees, Desi (Megan Fox) or Jodi (Charlyne Yi), has stolen $12,000 from the store, to the beginnings of a potential romance between Desi and Debbie's fitness coach Jason (Jason Segel), to Debbie's relationship with her unreliable father (John Lithgow), to Pete's dad's (Albert Brooks) late-in-life second go at fatherhood. With a time frame that is established in the opening scenes as one week, this is a lot to pack into seven days, and there's more where that came from, including a vacation that Pete and Deb go on and Pete's attempts to promote Graham Parker's new record and help him reclaim his fame from decades' prior.
In what is being billed as "the sort-of sequel to 'Knocked Up'," Paul Rudd (2012's "Wanderlust") and Leslie Mann (2011's "The Change-Up") see their supporting roles of Pete and Debbie promoted to full-on lead status. If they and their daughters appear to be more or less playing the same people, the addition of other supporting players from "Knocked Up" do not hold such close scrutiny. Despite having the same names and living in the same on-screen universe, Jason Segel's (2012's "The Five-Year Engagement") Jason and Charlyne Yi's (2009's "Paper Heart") Jodi play their parts nothing like they did in the aforementioned film. Meanwhile, with "Knocked Up" protagonist Ben (Seth Rogen) barely mentioned and Debbie's history seemingly rewritten to not even include younger sister Alison (Katherine Heigl), it's as if that movie never occurred. It's strikingly lazy on Apatow's part, and a slap in the face to fans of "Knocked Up" who invested in their characters. Why even have Rudd and Mann reprise their roles if you could just as easily have them play fresh personas?
"Sometimes, I wish just one of you had a dick!" Pete exclaims to the vessels of estrogen surrounding him relatively early in "This Is 40." While the film isn't out of bounds in a lot of its snapshots of adulthood and suburban life, the unwieldy project as a whole simply grows more tedious and irritating as it goes. Boiling down to a long-winded flurry of arguments and screaming matches, these characters do not endear us so much as they make us want to run in the opposite direction. It's rarely, if ever, worth more than a light chuckle, and its emotional side is flat and unconvincing. If Judd Apatow hopes to reclaim his early successes, he's going to have to make some tough decisions—starting with his own self-congratulatory back-patting. This is a vanity project of the most thankless order.