This is 40 (2012) / Comedy-Drama

MPAA rated: R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language, and some drug material
Length: 134 min.

Cast: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Chris O'Dowd, Jason Segel, Robert Smigel, Annie Mundo, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker, Melissa McCarthy, Ryan Lee
Small role: Michael Ian Black, Tatum O'Neal, Billie Joe Armstrong, Ryan Adams
Director: Judd Apatow
Screenplay: Judd Apatow

This is 40 2012 Judd ApatowFor his fourth directorial turn, Judd Apatow (The 40 Year Old Virgin) makes his first mid-life crisis analysis, drawing much from personal experience, and makes his most personal film.  The only thing that might have made it more personal would have been if he starred in it instead of Paul Rudd (I Love You Man, Role Models).  Rudd should get the 'Apatow' role anyway, which he would have to be, as the married couple at the heart of the film are two characters from Apatow's hit film, Knocked Up, to which This is 40 is a spinoff of sorts.

Those characters are Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann, The Change-Up), now married several years, with two daughters named Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), living in their nice west metropolitan Los Angeles home.  (Note: in the roles of Debbie and the kids are Apatow's real-life family.)  Pete and Debbie are both turning 40 this year, though Debbie still refuses to accept the prospect, clinging to 38 on her birthday cake.  She's the owner of a clothing boutique store that's only producing modest returns, while Pete is about to go bust trying to run an indie-music label that puts out great music from artists past their prime in popularity (Graham Parker ingratiates himself wonderfully as Pete's star signee).  The pressure cooker in the marriage is exacerbated by their bratty kids that afford them little privacy or quiet, Pete's moocher of a father, and Debbie's nearly estranged dad of her own. 

There isn't much of a plot to the film other than the big birthday bash coming up that grows ever more in doubt, as tensions become frayed between nearly everyone invited.  Most of the scenes are small bits about the comicality of married life, growing older, parenthood, and family squabbles. If this were the premise of an adult-rated TV show on HBO, it likely would play much like this movie, though it would play out over three episodes instead of one lengthy opus.  Even without any discernible plot, the film still holds interest through some very acute and observations in Apatow's script, not to mention the many ad-libbed moments by a talented cast of comedic actors, and enough changes in scenery to recover from the occasional lull in the many story asides.

As is the case with nearly every Judd Apatow film to date, the biggest detraction in overall enjoyment is that it's just too long.  Too many pieces are in the film that don't work as well as others, or are just plain superfluous to the rest of the film.  The basic reason is one of unfettered indulgence, as many successful writer-directors get carte blanche to make the movies the way they see fit, then become so enamored of their characters that they just can't bring themselves to make that critical cut.  Apatow put so much of himself into This is 40 that he just couldn't part with any of it.  How can he cut scenes starring his wife?  His kids?  His favorite musical artists?  His favorite collaborators?

As with Kevin Smith's films, the more you know and identify with Apatow, the more you will like and 'get' This is 40.  If you go into this film having never seen one of his previous films, it's going to be a harder sell, as you likely will wonder why certain people are in the film, and why certain characters get so much screen time.  It is to Apatow's credit that his family, including the two kids, actually do well acting in their respective roles. 

This is 40 exists only as an occasionally erudite amusement, as there is little real conflict in the film other than financial woes that might mean the couple will sell their cushy home for one less cushy.  The possibility of a separation isn't much of a question, as the difficulties in their marriage seem fairly petty, such as Pete's penchant for escaping into the bathroom constantly to get away from things to play on his iPad, or his constant consumption of food that's not good for him.  Some of the recurring jokes aren't even worth the effort, such as Sadie's desperation to watch every episode of LOST (for those who haven't seen the cult TV show to its conclusion and intend to, be warned that this film does spoil the all-important series finale).

The film is filled with "First World problems", where well-to-do families have to squabble over not getting their way enough.  This is 40 might be relatable if you live like Apatow, with his insular world of personal trainers, backyard swimming pools, celebrity friends, and chic boutiques.  However, this is only how a particular class of 40-somethings live, and the more of himself that Apatow puts into his stories, particularly as he becomes more successful, the less relatable his stories tend to be to the world at large.  There are the things many go through when getting older, like getting physicals, pap smears, popping Viagra, not understanding the music kids listen to these days, and trying to live a healthier lifestyle, etc., but that represents only a small portion of this film, at leas at compared to the bloated nature of the rest of the often picayune conflicts.  

However, as narcissistic as it may seem at first glance, he is writing with insight about what he knows, and even if we're looking into a world where we wish we had such a nice house, such a beautiful wife, such adorable kids, and where the most difficult decision on some days he might have to make is whether or not to eat a sugary cupcake, or whether to curse out a young boy for leaving unflattering things on the elder daughter's Facebook page, at least he can find the right angle of humor in all of it, even if it doesn't really seem like 40 is so tough at all.  It rings true for Apatow, or someone like him, even if that someone isn't quite like the rest of us (the 99%, as they say).  Just as we sit through an self-indulgent Woody Allen film and laugh, not because we understand his foibles, but because we know who he is and what he's going through at various points of his life, so too do we laugh when Apatow does the same.  However,  on the down side, Allen's life was much more public than Apatow's, so we could at least make a connection to his self-referential allusions far more.  And Allen can make his films in under 90 minutes as well.

This is 40 a funny enough film to recommend due to the acute observations of the banal suburban So Cal socialite lifestyle, yet it might have been funnier if Apatow were to satirize it, rather than to wholeheartedly embrace it with a cuddly big bear hug. Like the characters' anxieties on their bodies at the heart of the film, it might be time for Apatow to curb his tendencies to overindulge and wallow in excess, and start going for a leaner, meaner, less padded films to direct in the future.   Along these lines, This is 40 is akin to being given a platter full of rich and creamy cupcakes - enjoyable to sample, but a little too much to take it all in one sitting.
Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo