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This is 40 (2012)
Movie Reviews

This is 40 (2012)

Overly long, unbearably paced, and overstuffed with dialogue that go nowhere, Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up spinoff is not the compelling comedy/drama he very much wanted it to be.

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As soon as Judd Apatow’s This is 40 ended, I wracked my brain trying to figure out why I didn’t like it. Initially, I thought it was because I didn’t find the story even remotely relatable. Its lead characters are a married couple. I’m not married. They have two daughters. I don’t have any children. The film is bookended by fortieth birthday parties. I’m not even thirty yet. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the problem had less to do with relatability and more to do with structure, pacing, characterization, and dialogue. The idea of exploring the ups and downs of marriage, parenthood, aging, money, and careers is compelling, but it doesn’t amount to a whole hill of beans if the execution is bad.

Let us begin with the film’s length, a patience-testing 133 minutes. I can attribute much of the excess length to verbal gags that are belabored to the point of exhaustion, and this is despite the fact that all of them are mildly amusing at best. There are so many speeches, tirades, exclamations, and general conversations that are extended well beyond the time necessary to get the message across. I have a sneaking suspicion many of these scenes were either partially or entirely improvised. I have nothing against improvisation, but there has to be a sense that it’s actually advancing the story. If there’s no believable context for it, it comes off as nothing more than incessant yammering – which, in this case, is particularly potty-mouthed. It’s not a good sign if your time in the theater is spent wishing the characters would shut up.

The film is a spinoff of Apatow’s own Knocked Up, the focus shifted away from the Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl characters towards those played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Their characters, Pete and Debbie, have been married for nearly fifteen years and have two daughters, one in elementary school and one in junior high. At the start of the film, Debbie is in denial about the fact that it’s her fortieth birthday and insists it be treated as if it were her thirty-eighth. She’s the owner of a small clothing boutique and has reason to believe that her best employee, the much younger and splendidly bosomed Desi (Megan Fox), may know something about a substantial amount of shop money that’s unaccounted for.

Pete, set to turn forty himself, is the owner of a record label, which is rapidly plunging into bankruptcy. In large part, it’s because he refuses to seek out younger singers with marketable tastes in music; he insists on sticking with British rock singer/songwriter Graham Parker, despite the fact that his following is limited to a faithful few. On top of this, Pete continues to financially support his father (Albert Brooks), a lazy and unapologetic mooch raising unwanted young triplets with his new wife. Pete’s pride prevents him from telling Debbie that they’re financially strapped and will probably have to sell the house they’re living in. He copes with his frustrations by eating cupcakes. Debbie, herself deeply frustrated, copes by smoking cigarettes.

Needless to say, their marriage has become turbulent. Aside from the financial pressures, there’s the stress of raising their daughters – both of whom, incidentally, are played by Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters. The older daughter, Sadie (Maude Apatow), is a post-pubescent hormone case who has become fixated on the television series Lost. The younger daughter, Charlotte (Iris Apatow), regularly fights with Sadie and just wants someone to play with. Some of Maude’s lines are excusable, given her age. In the case of Iris, however, Apatow supplies her with dialogue no actual child is likely to say. Even in cases of flagrant nepotism, actors should still be given characters that are engaging and bits of dialogue that are believeable.

Other dramas work their way into the film, including Debbie’s attempts at reconciling with her cold, largely absent father, the spine surgeon Oliver (John Lithgow), and Pete and Debbie getting into a spat with the mother (Melissa McCarthy) of a boy (Ryan Lee) who put Sadie in the Not column of an internet Hot/Not list. There are also several actors playing small roles that are little more than broad, grating caricatures. These would include Chris O’Dowd, Jason Segel, Rob Smigel, Charlyne Yi, and Tim Bagley. This is 40 works best when the focus is Pete and Debbie, especially when they’re given scenes that successfully walk the line between funny and touching. But the film as a whole is overly long, unbearably paced, and overstuffed with passages of dialogue that go nowhere. If this is what being forty really is like, I have absolutely nothing left to look forward to.

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12/21/2012

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R

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Universal Studios

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About the Author: Chris Pandolfi