November 30, 2012


This is 40Apatow’s Complaint
Midlife Crisis is a Bundle of Laughs

Three years is too long to go without a Judd Apatow comedy. That’s how long it’s been since the comic genius of American cinema gave us his last written-and-directed movie (“Funny People”). Apatow’s witty sensibilities have matured, if only slightly. With that experience comes generosity. At nearly two-and-a-quarter-hours “This is 40” has a lot to give in the way of ribald laughs and kindly expressed observations about post-economic-collapse-America.

The episodic cross-generational comedy explores the ongoing marriage of secondary characters from Apatow's “Knocked Up” (2009). Pete (Paul Rudd), Debbie (played by Apatow's wife Leslie Mann), and the couple’s two daughters Charlotte and Sadie (amusingly played by Apatow’s own girls Iris and Maude) are celebrating Debbie’s 40th birthday.


Perfectly believable as a couple, Rudd and Mann make the most of every lived-in comic beat. Funny-bone zingers fly. The couple barely has time to replace their bad habits with good ones. Debbie likes to sneak cigarettes. Pete likes clandestine cupcakes. You can feel Pete and Debbie getting under each other’s skin. When the gloves come off during a heated argument, tickles come with a slap.

The marriage is going through a few bumps. Pete’s record-distribution business is in trouble, yet he can’t stop giving big handouts to his needy mensch of a dad Larry (Albert Brooks). One of Debbie’s employees, at the women’s clothing store she owns, is stealing thousands of dollars. Selling the family home is in the offing. The upper middle class isn't what it used to be. Children are too busy with their mobile devices to play outside anymore.


As always Apatow’s sense of humor cuts close to the bone. The bedroom isn't all fun and games. Pete’s idea of secretly taking a dose of Viagra doesn’t go over so well with Debbie even if she momentarily enjoys the “turbo-charged” sex the couple shares in the shower during the film’s tone-setting opening. Like a lot of married men, Pete doesn't always know when to keep his mouth shut. Debbie later complains of wanting more passion in the couple’s sex life. Much of the film’s comedic effect arrives from the layers of real-life irony that piles up.

You can’t help but get the sense that Judd Apatow is drawing liberally from his own home life for more than a few jokes. He certainly taps his own musical tastes by casting Graham Parker in a pivotal supporting role. Pete runs a small retro record label whose success depends on selling “10,000 copies” of Graham Parker’s latest record “Three Chords Good” — recorded with his real-life former band, the Rumour. The sometimes-prickly Parker isn’t above being the brunt of a few jokes that speak to everything from the downside of aging to the downward slide of pop culture. One hilarious story about his Aunt Queenie's gout foot —"the size of a small pig" — tickles the ribs.


From a bang-for-buck perspective “This is 40” delivers big dividends in laughs. Not every joke or comic situation squeezes out a spark, but they do hit the mark more often than not. That said; the movie probably won’t win over many new audiences to Apatow’s team. If you’re a fan of his signature style of comedy, you’ll be pleased. If not, no amount of proof will convince you. “This is 40” is more of a comic banquet than an appetizer. If only the filmmakers had toned down the excessive product placement (Oreos - really?) the ugly reality of America's strained economic seams wouldn't be so apparent.   

Rated R. 133 mins. (B+) (four Stars - out of five/no halves)

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