They say life begins at 40, but not for Debbie (Leslie Mann) who chooses to pretend she’s 38 again. Her husband Pete (Paul Rudd) likes to think he is dealing better with turning the big 4-0 but his taste for early morning cupcakes and new bike riding regime says otherwise.
This is the latest offering from Judd Apatow and perhaps his most personal to date. With his real-life wife Mann and two daughters playing members of the family, you can’t help but wonder how representative Rudd’s Pete is of Apatow himself.
We previously saw Pete and Debbie in the hilarious Knocked Up, but it is difficult to compare the two films – probably why This Is 40 is only being described as a ‘sort of sequel’ to its predecessor.
Whilst This Is 40 is by no means Apatow’s funniest film, it does have some genuinely great moments. Its commentary on growing up is hilarious to watch. As Debbie struggles to come to terms with the possibility of having another child, her daughter Sadie (Maude Apatow) is dealing with adolescence.
I normally find young actors and actresses extremely irritating but Maude Apatow is an absolute star in this film. In one particular scene she argues with Pete about Lost being better then Mad Men and Rudd and Apatow’s tone as father and daughter is spot on. Although I hate to admit it, I could absolutely relate to her breakdown over the last episode of Lost – I so often find myself getting overly emotional about fictional characters and she represents this melodramatic feeling very well.
Pete and Debbie are struggling to remain youthful whilst maturing just enough to be role models for their children, although taking away the house wifi doesn’t have the desired effect with new tv shows to watch and Facebook statuses to update, the girls soon turn anti-mum and dad.
As well as focusing on the struggles of a parent-child relationship, the film also looks at Pete and Debbie’s efforts at trying to reconnect with each other whilst dealing with financial issues. You can see their problem – they live in a mansion with incredible art in each room and every character seems to own an Ipad yet both of their businesses are struggling.
Both Pete and Debbie have issues with their own fathers – Debbie barely knows hers and is resentful that he isn’t involved with her children and Pete’s father, Larry, is overly reliant on the family. Like his son, Larry is living a life beyond his means and relies on Pete secretly lending him money, despite his own financial issues.
The film’s strength is, without a doubt, the characters. At times you don’t want to like them, Debbie can be whiny Pete can be selfish and Sadie can be melodramatic, but it’s these characteristics that make the film so realistic. You like the characters because you recognise them as people you know, and at times you see elements of yourself in them.
The film does have some laugh-out-loud moments, particularly in scenes where Debbie and Pete affectionately reveal how much they can hate each other, but Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow) are the true scene-stealers of the film. As the youngest of three sisters, I loved it when Charlotte shouted at Sadie “I can handle a nightmare, you’re a nightmare every day to me”. As real-life sisters, their rapport on-screen between Maude and Iris is brilliant and even when it wasn’t a part of the scene, you can see them trying to wind each other up.
However, many of the scenes can feel a little extended at times. At two hours and fourteen minutes long some of the film could certainly have been cut. At times there are aimless plot digressions which often coincide with cameos. In most cases it feels like the cameos and supporting roles were just included to bulk up the cast. Even though I find Melissa McCarthy hilarious, her parts only tend to have one ongoing gag which is repeated over and over until the scene ends and although it is great to see Charlyne Yi return from Knocked Up she wouldn’t be my first choice of characters to return – I would have loved to see Seth Rogen pop up, a mention of Ben was not enough for me!
Overall, I would certainly recommend this film to Apatow fans, but would warn them they should be prepared that the plot doesn’t provide constant comedy; it is more like Funny People than Knocked Up. If you think you can endure the film’s length, I’d say go for it, otherwise maybe wait for the DVD.