“Possibly, not a ton of thought went into it because the other Apatow production coming out later in the year – This is 40 – seems like it’s going to be a hit.”
That was a statement I made in my Wanderlust review a few months back. I can’t say that This is 40 was on my list of anticipated movies for the year, but I had looked forward to it. Although it wasn’t the hit I was hoping it might be, it was a good movie. One of the most consistent criticisms This is 40 has received applies to its length. It has a running time of around two hours and ten minutes – one heck of a running time. Movie running times, on the long side, don’t bother me if the story or character development justify it. In this case, the story does drag a bit at times, but I think that may have been the director’s intention; that’s “real life” and I think that’s one of the points of the movie.
This is Judd Apatow’s fourth film, as a director. The 40-Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Funny People were his three previous. His movies don’t really have a plot, per se. They’re really more like “slice-of-life” vignettes, albeit wickedly funny at times, and surprisingly replete with insightful observations. The “slice of life” on display for us in This is 40, focuses Apatow’s lens on the expectations – going forward in their relationship and looking backward with hindsight – of a married couple turning forty and determined to realign and rekindle their dream of a happy family life to the realities that confront us all when dreams meet the real world. Pete and Debbie were supporting characters in a previous Apatow film. This sets the comedic tone, of course reinforced by the movie’s marketing tag-line, “… the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up.”
We didn’t learn much about these characters when they were first introduced in Knocked Up, but it was obvious they had some issues. Here, their life story is expanded on in great detail. Apatow’s style both helped, and hindered certain elements of the story. He does an excellent job of making you forget you’re watching a movie. He sucks you into the protagonists’ world and, at the end, you do feel for them. On the negative side, Apatow stories tend to linger on certain scenes or topics beyond their welcome. Certain jokes, or subplots could definitely be cut shorter. Apatow, almost defiantly, seems to refuse editing such scenes in his movies. For good or bad, this is something you just have to accept when you see one of his films.
The screenplay is a mixed bag; still, there are some truly great moments. Drama and humor are in equal abundance – as in all Apatow films. Most of the time, this mix comes off completely natural and moves the story along effortlessly. Other times, however, it can feel forced, and can mess up the movie’s pace. It threw me off at times – seeing a humorous scene, then in the blink of an eye, shifting gears to something pretty bleak. In the jokes department, it was hit and miss. When it missed, it missed relatively bad. When it hit, though, it provided some laugh-out-loud moments. In one regard, you have to admire every Apatow effort; with chuckles and grins almost omnipresent, the drama is never held back. It did get sappy a few times, but some of the dialog and scenes cut deep and left lasting impressions.
2012 had some outstanding movie soundtracks. This is 40 was one of them. It is definitely a soundtrack that I would buy in my top ten of 2012. It is expertly crafted. Story-wise, the music enhanced it tenfold. Also, it had me looking forward to the next song and helped “pull me through” the times when was dragging a bit. Ryan Adams, Paul Simon, Fiona Apple, and more are featured. I’m glad Rudd’s character was a music manager. That helped the movie big-time.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Paul Rudd is incredibly likeable. He fits into the role with ease, playing it in a way that comes off as authentic and genuine. I want to say this is his best performance to date, but I can’t really do that. Rudd plays similar characters in all of his movies and has developed a kind of signature performance. It would be hard to find what he has done differently in this movie. With that said, just know he does a very good job. Lesslie Mann complements Rudd perfectly, delivering a very convincing performance. The supporting cast of Albert Brooks, Chris O’Dowd, Jason Segel, Mellissa MaCarthy, Megan Fox, Iras Aptow and Maude Aptow all contribute solid performances. The size of the cast is a contributing factor to the long running time, but all in all, I think keeping providing enough screen to develop their characters paid off. It gave the film an added dimension of heart.
The writing, focused on the relationship between the main couple, was done well. One thing that benefited from the length of the film, was the screen time devoted to the main characters. You were able to spend enough time with each of them to get a feel for them as real people. Watching them deal with every aspect of their lives was the meat of the movie. While a few of the movie’s messages weren’t fully developed, a few came through clearly. You don’t need to be married to understand it, or relate to it. If you’re a part of a family, as we all are, you’ll get it. This is 40 could have been a fantastic movie. It strives for it. And I have to say it was an outstanding effort. It managed to convey and capture a lot. It’s definitely not for everyone, especially if you don’t have the patience to sit through a long movie that isn’t paced with a lot of action. But if you’re a Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, or Leslie Mann fan, you’ll find a lot to enjoy. If you’re not, you won’t become fan. It’s not a great movie, but it had its moments and it definitely highlights some of the strengths and talents of everyone involved.