We first met Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) in Judd Apatow’s surprisingly sweet 2007 comedy Knocked Up, wherein the long married couple provided the young and accidentally pregnant Allison and Ben with not just a class in Passive-Aggression 101, but also the perfect reflective surface on which to explore and examine their own relationship. Five years later and we are once again invited to glimpse into a week in the life of Debbie and Pete as they both face the milestone of turning 40. I fear however ‘glimpse’ may be the wrong word for a film that clocks up 133 minutes.
And therein, unfortunately, lies This Is 40’s huge disadvantage. Like so many of Apatow’s recent productions, the film’s bloated running time works against its favour. The problem with this film specifically is that with the thinnest of plots, what should be an enjoyable and insightful reflection on the recognisable stresses of family life becomes a meandering and aimless exercise. Sure, Pete and Debbie have a lot on their plates right now (although not cupcakes – now they’ve hit the big 4-0 high cholesterol foods are out, along with cigarettes). Debbie is curious as to how thousands of dollars has gone missing from the fashion boutique she runs whilst Pete is struggling to maintain the financial balance of his record company, and all the while two are wrestling with warring daughters and their emotional issues toward their own parents.
But all of these factors only start to come into relevance after a 50 minute slow start in which a host of needless cameos from other Apatow credits are trotted out (Chris O’Dowd, Lena Dunham, Jason Segel, Charlene Yi, Annie Mumulo…) to perform the now regulation improv scenes in which one character establishes a subject and another provides a list of responses that blend crudity and pop culture reference. Whereas in previous efforts like The 40 Year Old Virgin and indeed Knocked Up the best lines were cherry picked for the cinematic release and the rest saved for DVD bonus footage, This Is 40 just lets its characters keep going until the entire concept of pacing is lost.
What the film lacks in the comedic side, it more than over-compensates for in the dramatic. Every other scene in This Is 40 is an argument, and whilst some are heartbreakingly raw and nerve-hitting (particularly when Pete and Debbie’s heated discussion as to who of them is Simon and who is Garfunkel escalates into a far deeper examination of their marriage), the majority of them are irksome and annoyingly frequent, which is in no way helped by EVERYBODY SHOUTING ALL THE TIME. In fact, This Is 40 is at its best when it’s at its quietest. A simple shot of the youngest child playing keyboard over the muffled sounds of her parents yelling at each other in the other room, or the simple inquisition as to why nobody is talking at the breakfast table convey so much more with so much less.
In many ways, This Is 40 is a lot like Get Him To The Greek, the sort of sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall wherein Russell Brand’s rock star Aldous Snow was given the upgrade from supporting to lead character. As in that film, This Is 40 often shirks the humourous consistency of its source in favour of lengthy and indulgent character study, and whilst Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd prove more than capable of fully fleshing out their old roles and are given stellar support by Albert Brooks and the ever-reliable John Lithgow as their erstwhile fathers, it’s a shame the script doesn’t perform as brilliantly. The emphasis on the dramatic over the comedic unfortunately make This is 40 a tiring and frequently dull experience.
Flabby, often irritating and only mildly amusing, This Is 40 is a midlife crisis to be wary of.