“This is 40,” the new film from one-man comedy machine Judd Apatow, contains all the elements you expect from a midlife comedy—Viagra jokes, the ogling of younger women, cholesterol, and the perils of familiarity—and a few things you don’t, like a supporting role from semi-forgotten 70s rocker Graham Parker, a careful examination of Meghan Fox’s breasts and some genuine emotion.
The movie takes place in the week between Pete and Debbie’s (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprising their roles from “Knocked Up”) fortieth birthdays. Using his patented mix of humor, heart and vulgarity, the director explores the couple’s life as they approach the milestone.
It soon becomes clear that age isn’t the only issue in their lives. Although Debbie constantly lies about how old she is, larger problems include constantly warring kids (Maude and Iris Apatow)—“I can handle a nightmare,” the younger one says to her sister. “You’re a nightmare everyday for me.”—an empty bank account made worse by a freeloading father (Albert Brooks), an embezzling employee and relationship doubts triggered by Debbie’s loaded question, “If I hadn’t gotten pregnant fourteen years ago, would we still be together?”
Let’s not forget, however, that this is a comedy, so mixed into this study of midlife disappointment are some keenly honed and very funny observations. It’s a blend of heart and humor, frequently in the same scene, and often in the same sentence.
Pete, who runs a failing record company—he turned down Arcade Fire and is now pinning his hopes on a revival of Graham Parker—tends to speak in music metaphors. “We’re like Simon and Garfunkle,” he says to Debbie, “and you turned me into Garfunkle.” It’s a funny line, delivered well, but also a loaded one that places his unhappiness front and center and it is that kind of writing and performance that makes you laugh and cringe at the same time.
This is an ensemble comedy of sorts, featuring Apatow Repertory Company regulars like Chris O’Dowd (who brightens every scene he appears in), Jason Segel, Lena Dunham (he produces her HBO show “Girls”) and Melissa McCarthy, and some newcomers to the fold like Brooks, John Lithgow and Graham Parker (who gamely allows himself to be the butt of jokes) but the center of the film is the work of Rudd and Mann.
Rudd brings his comic chops and likeability but there’s also a deep undercurrent of resentment and dissatisfaction running through the character of Pete that elevates him from stock character to believable person.
Mann also has a way with a line but far from being the stereotypical wife character she steals the movie with a performance that is by times vulnerable—a scene with a hockey player who doesn’t realize she is married is funny but framed with real emotion—then fierce—watch her smack down a kid who’s been taunting her daughter on line—and then sensitive—same scene with the kid. It’s multifaceted work that steals most of the scenes she appears in.
“This is 40” is a tad long and episodic—like snapshots from Pete and Debbie’s life—and loses some steam in its final twenty minutes, but its keenly observed look at a strained marriage has rewards that far outweigh the extended running time.