Monday, December 31, 2012

Movie Review: This is 40

This is 40
Directed by: Judd Apatow.
Written by: Judd Apatow.
Starring: Paul Rudd (Pete), Leslie Mann (Debbie), Maude Apatow (Sadie), Iris Apatow (Charlotte), Jason Segel (Jason), Annie Mumolo (Barb), Robert Smigel (Barry), Megan Fox (Desi), Charlyne Yi (Jodi), Graham Parker (Himself), Chris O'Dowd (Ronnie), Lena Dunham (Cat), Albert Brooks (Larry), John Lithgow (Oliver), Melissa McCarthy (Catherine).

The biggest problem with Judd Apatow films is that he doesn’t know when enough is enough. With The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up he made two of the best comedies in recent years – and even his third film, Funny People, has a lot of great stuff in it. His latest, This is 40, is very much the same. Somewhere lurking in the movie’s nearly two and half hour runtime is a great comedy about what it means to be in a long term marriage with kids. But like all of Apatow’s films, he doesn’t seem to know that sometimes less is more. He wants to include pretty much every idea he has in his head in the final film. The result is a movie that feels bloated, and although so much of the movie is good – either insightful or funny or both – the overall impact is dulled simply because Apatow’s story cannot support the films mammoth running time. It reminds me of the story of the editing of Annie Hall – when the editor convinced Woody Allen to cut out an entire subplot that would have added an hour of running time, and instead to concentrate solely on the relationship between Alvie and Annie. The result is one of the greatest screen comedies ever made. Apatow needs an editor like that.

The film reintroduces Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), the couple who provided the example (either of what to do, or what not to do, depending on how you look at it) to the main characters in Knocked Up. They are both turning 40 within a week of each other, but Debbie insists she’s really only 38 – but she’s not fooling anyone. He owns his own indie record label, and its struggling, and she owns her own fashion boutique, and it isn’t doing well either. Not only are they facing financial difficulties, their relationship has reached a state of complacency. With two daughters, demanding jobs, and demanding extended families (two of the many subplots involved their fathers – Albert Brooks as his, who constantly needs money, and John Lithgow as hers, who is never around), they are taking each other for granted. And things get even worse during the course of the movie.

This is 40 is one of the few movies out there that take an honest look at what it is like to be married to the same person for years on end. The love between the two of you never really goes away, but that passion that most movies are about fades after years together. As much as you love the other person, sometimes they can drive you absolutely crazy. The movie is at its best when it concentrates on Rudd and Mann together – the bickering, the arguing, the lying, the frustration. But it’s not all bad. They still love each other; they’re just not sure what to do next. But when push comes to shove, they are still there for each other. You can insult them as much as you like – but no one else can.

The movie is bloated because there are too many subplots. Albert Brooks constant demand for money. John Lithgow’s absentee dad. Pete’s attempt to resurrect the career of Graham Parker. His problems at work with is staff (including Chris O’Dowd). The two clerks at Debbie’s store – Charlene Yi and Megan Fox. Debbie’s trainer (Jason Segel). A feud with another mother at school (Melissa McCarthy). Pete’s bitch sessions with his best friend (Robert Smigel). And then all the problems with the kids themselves (Maude and Iris Apatow). The fact that so many of these performances – especially by Brooks, Lithgow and McCarthy – are great helps all the subplots go down easier than they should. Yet, there is still way too much going on for one movie to deal with. The movie would have been much better off jettisoning several of these subplots, and concentrating on what works best – Pete and Debbie themselves.

Paul Rudd is a fine comic actor, and while the movie demands more dramatic work from him than we’re used to seeing, it’s mostly good in those scenes as well (although he does resort to talking really loud too often). Leslie Mann is wonderful though as Debbie – sympathetic, funny, sexy, but also kind of annoying in the way that only wives can be. She nails it.

Overall, This is 40 is a good film. It is way too bloated, and at times the editing seems choppy – as if Apatow is more concerned with jamming everything he wants into the movie than how it all flows together. And yet, what works in the movie is wonderful, honest and funny. This is 40 could have been a great film – but I’ll settle for the good one Apatow made.

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