A glimpse into the life of a middle-class American family, This is 40 is perhaps one of the more truthful movies on marriage and family life that has been seen in mainstream theaters in a long time. If there’s one that offers less deception, I can’t think of it. The film pulls back the curtains and provides an unbiased, uncensored look at a couple of 40-year-olds and their two children, as well as the extended family and friends.
There is little along the lines of a conventional narrative in This is 40. If the characters weren’t played by actors and clearly following a script primarily designed to make us laugh, one could be mistaken in thinking this is a documentary. There are subplots and the overarching plot is basically pondering whether or not the two leads can get along with one another, but this is mostly a film that exists to explore its prime concept, as well as to make us laugh. It’s quite successful at the former, but the latter leaves a little to be desired. Still, as the “sort-of sequel” to Knocked Up, it delivers far more than its predecessor.
The film stars Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd as a married couple with more problems than they let on in Knocked Up. Mann is Debbie, who has started up her own clothing store, while Rudd is Pete, who has his own record company. They have two children, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow), who fight a bunch and have their own problems and thoughts on life. They all have friends, acquaintances, extra family, and far more characters than there probably should be when the focus of the film is on these four people.
With too many characters comes an overlong running time. Trim out some of the friends and the employees from each parent’s respective company, and you’ve got a film that plays for maybe 100 minutes, which would be a whole half-hour less than the theatrical cut of This is 40 wound up being. It would narrow the scope, allow for writer-director Judd Apatow’s primary points to come through more clearly, and wouldn’t stretch the jokes as thin as they’re sometimes spread here.
But, no, we have to spend time with Debbie’s employees, Desi (Megan Fox) and Jodi (Charylne Yi), one of whom might be stealing money from the store. And Pete’s father, Larry (Albert Brooks), who has been begging for (and receiving) money for years. And Jason Segel, who played the personal trainer (and was in Knocked Up), appears because he’s friends with Judd Apatow and probably had a couple of weekends free during filming. Most of these belonged as deleted scenes on the DVD, not left in to bloat the running time.
That’s part of the issue with a Judd Apatow movie, isn’t it? He’s the writer, director and one of the key producers, meaning there’s really not anyone around to tell him “no.” This leads to aimless scenes remaining in, jokes that majority won’t find funny not excised, and his family getting leading roles when they don’t belong in the movies. And I’m not taking about his wife, Leslie Mann, who is fine and funny; I mean their kids, and especially the younger one. They’re not currently good enough at acting to be given any significant amount of screen time.
Still, This is 40 is mostly funny, and it has things to say about marriage and family life. It doesn’t often feel deceptive, which leads to it appearing as if it’s more realistic than most other films tackling the subject matter. We don’t even get into indiscretion or infidelity with these two adults, nor do we get mid-life crises. We get relatively normal problems that they have to work through.
The main draw to these Apatow films, whether it be the ones which he directed or just produced, is that there’s a heart to the crudeness, and that both men and women will find something to like in them. This is true here. For all the vulgarity that This is 40 has, there’s a warmth and sweetness to it, too. Sure, that means you’re pretty sure everything’s going to work out in the end, but it’s a mainstream comedy, so don’t you kind of know that anyway?
Both Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann can hold their own in a comedy. Mann’s more the lead than Rudd in this one, it seems, but they both get enough time to do their thing. Supporting work goes to the aforementioned Segel, Yi, Fox, and Brooks, as well as Melissa McCarthy, John Lithgow, Lena Dunham, Chris O’Dowd and Robert Smigel. Most of the supporting cast, while intermittently funny, could have been cut and the film would have been better for it. There is little reason for most of the scenes involving these actors.
Is This is 40 worth seeing? Sure, assuming you can put yourself in the place of these characters, or know people who are in a similar position. If you can relate to their situations, you’re likely to see the truth and humor behind them. If you can’t, it’s going to be a long, dull ride. It’s not a smashing success regardless, due to self-indulgence on the part of the writer/director/producer, but it’s mostly funny and pretty sweet, and is more honest with its audience about the real world than most movies you’ll see. It’s significantly better than Knocked Up, and largely unrelated, meaning you can skip that one and go straight here, if you want. That’s always a plus.