Judd Apatow is one of the top comedic filmmakers today, and is one of my greatest influences, if not the greatest. The amount of heart and depth he puts into his television shows and films is always something to really look forward to. So when I first heard about This Is 40, and what Judd’s take on it would be, it quickly became one of my most anticipated movies this year. Imagining a comedy all about Pete and Debbie from Knocked Up (played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) dealing with everyday life, as a frustrated married couple already seemed like a hilarious premise. Though knowing that this would probably be Judd’s most grounded movie, it would also have to be his most realistic. This Is 40 does succeed in depicting mid-life crisis in a brutally honest and personal way, but it does it inefficiently.
The movie takes place during Pete and Debbie’s hardest times, where their family has fallen into a financial rut. Pete struggles to strike a hit with his record company and continues to financially support his needy father (Albert Brooks), while Debbie grows suspicious that one of the employees at her shop (Megan Fox) is stealing money from their revenue. Life at home is not much better, as Pete and Debbie’s oldest daughter (Maude Apatow) is now a pubescent and emotional teenager who has grown tiresome of her parents and her younger sister (Iris Apatow). To top it all off, Pete and Debbie are turning forty, which gets them to start reflecting on what their life has become. As they plan for Pete’s big birthday party (since Debbie won’t admit to being 40), they run into their past and the problems they’ve avoided, including Debbie’s estranged father (John Lithgow), and it becomes a test of their marriage and commitment to each other.
This Is 40 has its ideas all in the right place, but it doesn’t really take them anywhere all that interesting or new. Although Judd Apatow establishes these characters’ universe well with a lot of realism and personalization, the lack of increasing conflict makes the movie feel like a documentary of his own life rather than a more focused comedy. This may have been Judd’s intention, but the movie would still need better structure. Judd Apatow’s iconic long running time doesn’t benefit from it either. Although I don’t mind its lengthiness, the movie never really tries to do anything to advance Pete and Debbie’s relationship further, so it’s almost like seeing them have the same fight and make up the same way for each of the three acts. The movie’s screenplay is a rare but legitimate case of Judd Apatow being just a tad too personal and close to home, particularly his.
Now, as frustrating as this may all sound, Judd Apatow still gives wonderful direction by fulfilling his cast’s talents, as always. It’s good to see Paul Rudd back as Pete, the charming goofball of a husband/father, whose life gets pretty heavy in This Is 40. Leslie Mann is also very enjoyable again as the shrill but forgivable Debbie. The supporting cast is phenomenal, as it includes such awesome comedic performers as Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel, and Chris O’Dowd in small but hysterical roles. Even Megan Fox is a pleasant surprise here, with more likability than she should have. Judd Apatow also has taught his daughters well on how to act. Don’t be shocked if Maude Apatow starts showing up in movies other than her dad’s. The comedy is clearly the strongest point of this movie, as it always is in Judd Apatow’s works, and it is worth seeing for at least that.
This Is 40 is clumsy in telling the messages it wants to send, but it still gets the job done. I highly recommend it to older and more patient audiences, though, as this is Judd Apatow’s most mature and relatable movie to date. With that being said, even if this is my least favorite directorial film from him, but my admiration for Judd Apatow’s work ethic and creativity only have gotten greater. He’s a filmmaker who always stays true to his vision, and This Is 40 is a clear display of that. It doesn’t work nearly as well as it should have been, but much credit is still given to Judd for telling his audience exactly what he wanted to say.