Judd Apatow has found his cinematic niche in watching outsiders become insiders. The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People all examine likable, but slightly introverted, man-children. Each of these films attempts to show that the geeky child in all of us doesn’t have to go away, but it has to grow up a little bit. Apatow’s latest film, This is 40 is a departure from this philosophy and unfortunately, it suffers for it. This is 40 feels like an anti-Apatow film in that now we are watching dull, angry insiders desperately pining away for the days when they were outsiders.
This is 40 is marketed as the “sort of” sequel to Knocked Up. This is because it focuses on married couple Debbie and Pete, peripheral characters from that film. It is fair to call this a personal film for Apatow since Debbie is once again played by Apatow’s real wife Leslie Mann, and her two kids, Charlotte and Sadie, are played by his actual daughters. Pete is reprised by Paul Rudd, which has to create some excellent awkward moments on the set as Rudd is directed by Apatow to essentially ‘be’ Apatow alongside his entire family. Other than these characters, and a couple other very minor ones, this film certainly deserves the “sort of” moniker that it gets since it takes a completely different tone than Knocked Up and leaves behind virtually everything that made that movie work.
We drop in on Debbie and Pete five years after Knocked Up, and things are not good. The characters are facing their 40th birthdays and you’d think it’s the end of the world. Apatow has stripped his characters of their geek-child, and what is left is sad adults, angry kids, and a lot of yelling. It does not matter what your experience is with 40 or teenagers, this film uncomfortable viewing to say the least.
There is not much fun to be found in This is 40. Judd Apatow has always found some stronghold of critical praise in that he is given credit for being ‘honest.’ Basically, many critics say his comedies get away with being raunchy and crass because they are ‘honest.’ Actually, his comedies get away with being raunchy and crass because they are funny and filled with fun, and yes honestly realistic, characters, but that is not the case in This is 40. Whether or not one can relate to the problems of the characters, this is not an enjoyable movie. Problems are unrealistically piled on, Debbie’s father (John Lithgow) is nothing more than a caricature whose lines are unintentionally laughable, and the movie is plotless but not in an artistic way. Outside of a joke or two that work, especially the ones coming from Pete’s dad (played by Albert Brooks), This is 40 is packed with uninteresting side-line characters who come and go like Saturday Night Live characters, and it is entirely too long. Even the great Melissa McCarthy’s scene is a dud, except for showing the audience that the main characters can bond over attacking a nine-year-old boy and then making his mother look stupid for being outraged.
This is 40 is certainly a disappointing direction to see Apatow heading in. Hopefully, he’ll reexamine the lives of his characters and find better forms of ‘honesty’ than misery. D