In director Judd Apatow’s last feature film, Funny People, a barely-fictionalized Adam Sandler struggles with finding happiness in his empty Hollywood successes and takes solace in the realization that he’s been looking in all the wrong places. The movie was compelling because Sandler’s character was so closely-aligned with the actor’s career path that one couldn’t help but see truth in the imaginary circumstances Apatow’s newest effort, This Is 40, is a fun house mirror reflection of the writer/producer/director’s own experiences, and the result is strikingly similar to Funny People: hilariously touching, deeply personal, and entirely too long.
This Is 40 follows characters that were introduced in another Apatow flick, Knocked Up. Pete (Paul Rudd) has been married for 12 years to Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s real-life wife), and they have two daughters: teenage Sadie and 8-year old Charlotte (played by Maude and Iris Apatow, Judd & Leslie’s actual daughters). The family is at a crossroads in life. Pete is coping with the financial implications of chasing his dream to own a record label full of bands he loves, even if no one else does. Debbie is grappling with the sobering realities of being a 40-year-old woman, mother, and wife. The children clash with their peers, parents, and each other as they mature. All of this may not sound original, but it is fertile ground for comedy. And in classic Apatowian fashion, raunchy humor is set against the backdrop of pithy drama to create a unique cocktail of human emotion that accurately echoes the confusing ride of life itself.
Leslie Mann particularly shines as Debbie. She deftly navigates the waters of her husband’s script, almost as if she knows the twists and turns all too well. Maude and Iris also prove to be great child actors, though one can’t help but wonder how much of their performances we should truly consider “acting”. Rudd is dependably good, but by the end of the film, he feels more like a proxy for Judd than an actual, fictional character. The supporting cast gets their fair share of laughs as well: Jason Segel remains creepily hilarious as Debbie’s personal trainer, Lena Dunham (Girls) & Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) riff extremely well off each other as Pete’s promoters, and Megan Fox is still show-stoppingly hot as an employee at Debbie’s store. The cast is balanced out with surprisingly one-note performances from the usually great Albert Brooks & John Lithgow, but to be fair, their characters were written as equal parts unlikable and awkward. As the movie wears on, the motivations (and subsequent screen time) of each of these characters contribute heavily to the bloated run-time of the film, calling more attention to the unstructured plot than Apatow probably intended.
In the end, This Is 40 has some downright hysterical moments, the performances ring true, and Melissa McCarthy’s cameo is worth the price of admission alone. But as Judd Apatow matures as a filmmaker and his network of famous friends continues to grow, this critic hopes he can employ a better editor.