In his ‘sort-of sequel’ to hit comedy Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 sees Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) endure the highs and lows of marriage, work and family. Knocked Up followed Debbie’s sister Alison (Katherine Heigl) when she became pregnant after a one night stand with idler and general layabout, Ben (Seth Rogan). In an unusual turn, This Is 40 leaves Ben and Alison out of the picture, as the focus shifts to the delicate workings of Debbie and Paul’s nuclear family.
This Is 40 isn’t as packed with laughs as it could be and leaves much of Apatow’s brash schoolboy humour at the door. Instead Apatow focuses his attention on delivering a well-rounded comedy that laces humour with emotion. It’s a shrewd move, making an for unexpected Apatow film but one that is surprisingly honest about marriage and middle age. In This Is 40, Apatow entirely captures the heart and soul of his chosen generation – much as the Apatow produced Superbad encapsulated teen growing pains in the 2000s.
Paul Rudd reprises his role as Pete, the guy who would rather not grow up and accept the realities of modern life. Now he has his own record label, desperately trying to revive love for the old rockers and failing miserably. This musical element provides a perfectly pitched, poignant and bittersweet soundtrack to the film with appearances from Graham Parker and The Rumour and Ryan Adams.
As Debbie also struggles to locate a missing $12,000 from her boutique business, the family are in danger of losing their house. But the couple’s financial worries are lightly handled and often dismissed in some of the movie’s weaker moments, and we see the couple embark on an expensive hotel stay with little concern for the impact on their money troubles.
More touching is Pete and Debbie’s experience of family life. As they negotiate their teenage daughter’s addiction to technology and lack of interest in her younger sibling, Apatow’s script nicely plays on Pete’s isolation in a house that’s filled with women and he finds (short-lived) refuge from family life on the toilet. The chemistry between the family feels warm and natural – aided by the casting of Apatow’s wife and children in the roles – and this feels like Apatow’s most personal film to date.
Debbie’s obsessive, controlling and maniacal enthusiasm for change are drawn out beautifully by Leslie Mann as Debbie bans cupcakes, enforces healthy eating and decides the couple should choose happiness and forgiveness in the next stage of their lives. This Is 40 evokes a deep sense of imperfect people grappling with their lives and the film is tinged with disappointment and regret.
In all its effort to evoke the reality of approaching middle age, This Is 40 almost forgets about plot as it wanders towards Pete’s fortieth birthday party. Despite the fragmented and meandering narrative there’s enough comedic distraction to keep it going – from neat movie references to gags about Clooney and J.J. Abrams – and entertaining appearances from a high calibre supporting cast.
This Is 40 is filled with Apatow’s favoured actors and Jason Segel makes a comical return as Knocked Up’s lustful Jason, now running personal training business, ‘Bodies By Jason’. Relatively new additions to the Apatow gang include Chris O’Dowd who follows on from his Irish Film and Television Award for Best Supporting Actor in the Apatow produced comedy, Bridesmaids. Melissa McCarthy (Oscar nominated for her role in Bridesmaids) gives a scene stealing performance in the teacher’s office as Debbie and Pete come under fire from her foul-mouthed accusations.
This Is 40 might not be overflowing with the usual brash comedy from writer-director Judd Apatow, but it offers an entertaining and truthful window on middle age. Perceptive, warm and touching with sufficient laugh-out-loud gags to sustain its 134 minute running time, This Is 40 captures a generation in all its struggles, disappointments and hope.
VERDICT: ✭✭✭✭✩ 4/5
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