Five years after writer/director/producer/Godfather of Comedy Judd Apatow‘s smash hit Knocked Up comes the self-proclaimed “sort-of sequel” This Is 40, which reconnects us with Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann‘s Knocked Up characters Pete & Debbie several years later as they deal with the struggles of marriage and parenting, especially as it relates to both of them dealing with hitting the big 4-0. Well, mostly it’s Leslie Mann struggling with her age, and coincidentally enough she turned 40 in real life this year, too (MILF alert!). It took a while, but I eventually came around to liking this idea when the project was announced. I like the concept of a spinoff movie in the comedy genre. This is the kind of thing you usually only see in action or comic book franchises. Instead of unnecessary direct sequels, I’d be in favor of more focused sequels like this where we only follow the continuing stories of certain characters, as opposed to typical sequels which try to expand the stories of every major character from the previous movie, which too often results in a giant mess of a story. Maybe this can be like a reverse Avengers, where the team-up movie here is the original, and next we get another spinoff showing where Seth Rogen & Katherine Heigl are now with their kid, then another one with Jonah Hill & Jay Baruchel, something like that. Call it The Knocked Up Saga. Of course I’m kidding, but that would be sort of amusing, would it not?
It’s tough to review comedies like I do most other films, and that’s why I almost never do it. Either it’s funny or it isn’t, right? That’s all we require of most comedies. There’s rarely anything else that matters. Well, Apatow’s comedies always contain a certain amount of drama and realism underneath the broad comedy, and they’re always well made from a craftsmanship standpoint, so it’s easier to review his movies than say, Horrible Bosses, where all I have to say is, “Yes, it’s hilarious. Go see it.” As far as directors of comedy are concerned, Apatow is second only to Todd Phillips in his skill behind the camera.
I never expected This Is 40 to top Knocked Up, and it doesn’t, but it’s still a pretty damn good movie in its own right. Despite the “sort-of sequel” label, you could easily watch this without having seen Knocked Up. However, if you have seen Knocked Up, watching Paul Rudd & Leslie Mann together again in these roles is a joy. They have fantastic chemistry, which is obviously vital to making a relationship movie like this work. Rudd does his usual Paul Rudd thing, and I mean that as a compliment. He’s terrific in both the comedy and drama, and remains one of the best “Everyman” actors working today. That said, the juiciest material in the film goes to Leslie Mann, who continues to show just how great (and underrated) she is. She was so good in this same role in Knocked Up that I nominated her for Best Supporting Actress in 2007, and though she probably won’t make the final 5 this time around, I’ll consider her for Best Actress here.
We’ll get to some of the rest of the cast of the cast in a bit, but I want to also single out Albert Brooks, who turns in a fine supporting performance as Rudd’s father. Brooks, who I nominated for Supporting Actor last year for his masterful work in Drive (which the Academy of course ignored), deserves Supporting Actor consideration again here. I’ve always enjoyed Brooks and his comedy, and it’s nice to see him adapting as he ages to becoming sort of a character actor as opposed to a leading man. The more we see of him in roles like this, the better.
Except for there probably being a few too many characters to sort out, the script is pretty solid. It’s really funny of course, but one of the main appeals is the truth it tells about relationships, parenting, and modern family life. This is what Apatow is really good at, and why the drama in his films is just as interesting as the comedy. I’m sure there was plenty of improv going on, and it’s tough to tell just how much was on the page, but either way, this movie has a slew of near-classic one-liners. Perhaps my favorite was from Rudd, who in one scene tries to explain to his wife and young daughters why he loves 90’s alternative rock. Of course, they are annoyed he turned off their Nicki Minaj to put his own music on and don’t have a clue what he’s talking about, to which he can only reply, “I really wish just one of you had a dick.” I’m not married and I don’t have kids, but I instantly understood how frustrating that kind of situation must be. Someone who isn’t me really needs to make a highlight reel YouTube video of Paul Rudd’s genius dry delivery of these one-liners over the years.
Melissa McCarthy, the star of last year’s breakout hit Bridesmaids, shows up for a two-scene cameo and absolutely blows the roof off the movie. I say that because “steals the show” doesn’t do it justice. Just trust me.
Probably the funniest scene in any movie this year.
It was very nice to see Megan Fox doing something other than posing suggestively for Michael Bay in the Transformers movies. She looks great as always, but more importantly, she shows some real comedic chops in this supporting role. There are a couple scenes (including one with just her and Leslie Mann talking in a car) where she simply dominates. As Lord Vader would say, “Most impressive.” Hopefully, we (and by “we”, I mean all heterosexual males and every media publication) can get past the phase where she’s been treated as nothing more than a sex object and now give her the chance show us if she really has some talent. Yes, I’m being serious.
OH, HAI gratuitous Megan Fox boob grab shot.
Why, you ask? Because I can, that’s why!
-It should also be noted that the film has a really good soundtrack, which includes brand new tracks from Norah Jones and Fiona Apple. Not always my cup of tea personally, but within the context of the film they really work.
What’s not to like, you ask? Well, I didn’t actively hate anything about the movie, but there were some issues that I’ll touch on briefly…
–Judd Apatow’s continuing nepotism. I’m torn on what I think about this. While casting your pals and family members is certainly not a new tradition in Hollywood, Apatow seems particularly fond of it. Of course, he and Leslie Mann are married in real life, and their real life daughters, Maude & Iris, play the daughters in the film, which I guess means Paul Rudd is playing Judd Apatow. I’m actually glad Apatow casts his wife, because Leslie Mann is criminally underused outside of his films. I actually have no problem with his daughters being in the movie either, because they’re both fantastic (obviously, they were also both in Knocked Up playing the same characters). That’s one talented family. I have no idea if either of these kids have ambitions of acting outside of their dad’s movies, but I’d like to see it happen.
Apatow’s extended family are the actors he frequently uses in his other films or who star in the numerous films that he has produced in recent years. This time around, there’s a tiny, pointless cameo by It Girl Lena Dunham (Apatow is an executive producer on Girls), as well as secondary characters played by Jason Segel and Chris O’Dowd (the dude with the funny accent from Bridesmaids). Then there are cameos by musicians like Ryan Adams and Billie Joe Armstrong, while Graham Parker, playing himself, features prominently in the plot. Basically, Apatow loves cameos. I don’t have a beef with that, but the point is it might be nice to see him work with different people every now and then. And yes, I know that one of my favorite directors, Christopher Nolan, is just as guilty of recasting the same people over and over again. (I only wrote that because I’m required by law to mention Nolan in every review I write for the next two years.) Apatow is clearly still the most connected man in comedy right now. He knows everybody, and everybody is willing to work with him, even in very small roles. You have to respect that.
“Is there anyone I know who isn’t in this movie? I don’t wanna leave anybody out.”
One of the problems I do have with Apatow’s nepotism is the fact that the vast majority of his Hollywood pals are white. This Is 40 is one of the most whitewashed movies I’ve ever seen, so much so that it would make Nancy Meyers proud (yeah, I went there). As far as I can recall there is one non-white person with a speaking role; the Asian girl (Charlyne Yi) working at Debbie’s shop. There are some black extras at the end of the movie, and that’s about all the color you’re gonna get in the world as Judd Apatow sees it.
–#richwhitepeopleproblems. For a movie portraying realistic problems facing real families and couples entering their 40’s, these characters will be largely unrelatable to the majority of the moviegoing public. Let’s just say Pete & Debbie are definitely in the top federal tax bracket (get em, Democrats!). Debbie runs her own small business (a boutique fashion store) while Pete is running his own friggin record label. She drives a Lexus SUV and he a BMW sedan. They have a beautiful home in Los Angeles. Other than that, they’re kinda normal!
One of the conflicts is that Pete’s record label is struggling mightily (having hitched its wagons to an artist that can’t sell records anymore), and this is causing financial stress that may force them to sell their million-dollar home. Aww shucks. One of the other subplots involves one of Debbie’s employees allegedly stealing $12,000 from the business. Strangely, this doesn’t end up going anywhere, even after one of the girls admits to doing it. I guess they aren’t struggling for cash that much if the theft of $12,000 from their business doesn’t even warrant pressing charges (or making any real attempt at restitution). Basically, we’re meant to see that their finances are causing some of the marital strife, but in the end the family doesn’t end up suffering any financial consequences that we can see, and as best as I can tell they make no major changes to their finances (including Pete supporting his father to the tune of $40,000 a year- no biggie), ignoring a scene earlier in the film where their accountant demands they make changes. The lack of any resolution here is probably the biggest problem with an otherwise good script.
In an attempt to flesh out some backstory for Debbie’s side of the family, we see her reconnect with her estranged father (in an eccentric, but very good performance by John Lithgow), who of course is a millionaire spinal surgeon. He has remarried and has young kids again in his 60’s, so HE HAS PROBLEMS, TOO! Whoa is him. At a certain point I got confused with whose kids were whose between the fathers of Pete & Debbie. Because Albert Brooks has young kids also (triplets, in fact!), 40-year old Pete now has 6-year old half-brothers, which means Pete’s daughters have uncles who are younger than they are. Whoa. At a certain point I went cross-eyed and gave up trying to make sense of it all.
–The Apple porn. I found it sort of annoying that almost the entire movie is an advertisement for Apple. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I guarantee you they didn’t pay a dime for product placement. There are iMacs everywhere in Paul Rudd’s work office, Rudd and one of his daughters are using iPads constantly, and everybody has an iPhone. It’s obscene. There’s even one scene where one of the daughters collects her sister’s electronics and brings them to her, and it’s just a massive stack of Apple; a Macbook, iPad, iPod and an iPhone. And that’s not an exaggeration. The one good thing is that it does sort of pay off near the end when a reference is made to shoving something up someone’s “iCunt”.
-Is it too long? One of the chief criticisms Apatow is facing with this movie is that it’s way too long, especially for a comedy. I understand that complaint, but I don’t completely agree with it. Really, I suspect the people who are noticing the length and making a big deal about it are the same people that didn’t enjoy the film as a whole. And of course, if you don’t like a movie and it’s long, you’re gonna make a stink about how long it is. That’s what critics do. That said, this is not a new thing for Mr. Apatow. After his directorial debut, The 40 Year Old Virgin, clocked in at an appropriate 116 minutes, Knocked Up jumped to 129 minutes, and his Adam Sandler epic, Funny People, was a mammoth 146 minutes, which is insane for a movie primarily claiming to be a comedy (however, I should say I still very much enjoy that movie despite its many flaws). After that one, I figured Apatow’s next movie would be the first 3-hour comedy, but he managed to cut back just a little on This Is 40, which clocks in at 134 minutes. Could they have trimmed another 15 minutes and used that stuff for a really long deleted scenes reel? For sure, yes. Did I feel like it was too long as I was watching it? Ehh, just a tiny bit. I wouldn’t have minded if it was 10 minutes shorter, but I don’t feel the run time is a burden. I could find a few scenes to trim or cut, but there isn’t anything in there that I hated or that I thought was overly self-indulgent on Apatow’s part. I guess you could remove some of the supporting characters altogether, as Apatow has become prone to inserting way too many characters in his movies. In the end though, the performances here are fantastic, the script is good, and the flick is really funny, and that’s exactly what I wanted. If I’m enjoying a film, in the end, I don’t care how long it is.
Considering some of some of the movies among my top 10 favorites of all-time (Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, Gladiator, the Lord of the Rings movies, The Shawshank Redemption), clearly I prefer em long. And yes, that’s what she said.
Speaking of long, this review ended up being much longer than I intended, but what the fuck ever, bro. I love writing about good movies. Sue me. Of Judd Apatow’s 4 directorial efforts, I’d place This Is 40 3rd, behind Knocked Up and 40 Year Old Virgin, but slightly ahead of Funny People. I remain a huge fan of his work, both as writer/director and as a producer on other projects. I’m interested to see what he has up his sleeve next, and hopefully, he doesn’t wait another 3 years between movies this time. Like I said, I’d very much like him to work with some new people on a completely new story, perhaps one that doesn’t take place in L.A. and doesn’t involve the entertainment industry in any way. And Paul Rudd, much as I love him, can’t be in it! Neither can anyone else from your family. That’s the gauntlet I throw down to you, sir. Do something new and different. Get out of your comfort zone. He’s got too much talent to start getting lazy creatively at age 45. In fact, I think I’ll tweet him a link to this review so he sees this challenge. I just know he’ll be anxious to read it. Right?
Anywho, to wrap things up, I give This Is 40 a “see it in theaters” recommendation. It is well worth your time and you will have plenty of jollies if you have any sense of humor whatsoever. And because I’m a good guy I’ll even let you know to stay in your seat a minute or so into the end credits, because there’s a quick gag reel of outtakes from the aforementioned Melissa McCarthy scene. I had to wipe away tears of laughter as I got out of my seat to leave the theater.
P.S. Goddamn you, Judd Apatow, for making the viewing of the last episode of Lost a recurring plot element. I haven’t seen a single episode of the show and was looking forward to getting into it one day, but now I’ve seen several key moments from the series finale. I’ve been trying to avoid Lost spoilers for years, you inconsiderate prick! RAAR!!!
This Is 40 – Rated R – 134 minutes
My IMDb rating: 7/10
Recommendation: See It Now (In Theaters!)
Biggie Awards considerations: Best Ensemble Performance, Best Actress- Leslie Mann, Best Supporting Actor- Albert Brooks
Recommended reading: check out an interesting article over at HuffPost: 40 Things This Is 40 Gets Right About Middle Age.
Oh, and Merry Christmas and stuff. No better day than this to go see a 2-and-a-half-hour, R-rated, foul-mouthed, blood-soaked Quentin Tarantino movie, amiright? Django Unchained, here I come!