- Rated R
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
hat a misleading title. If anything, Judd Apatow’s latest dramedy “This Is 40” should have been called “Secrets and Lies,” though in fairness no one should be forced to sit through another movie with that title. (Mike Leigh’s film was enough, thank you very much.) For those coming up on the big 4-0, relax: the events in this movie only happen at 40 if you’ve spent the previous few years making terrible, terrible decisions involving your money and your partner. That it’s happening here is less due to age than it is a matter of karmic payback for a complete lack of accountability.
In “This Is 40,” Apatow plucks two supporting characters from his 2008 film “Knocked Up,” the unhappily married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), and gives them their own story. As the two approach their 40th birthdays, both are having troubles dealing with the reality of it, to the point where one of them refuses to even acknowledge that they’re turning 40 in the first place. Both own businesses that are losing money, but neither will admit it. Worse, Pete is going behind Debbie’s back to loan money to his deadbeat father Larry (Albert Brooks), who’s just started a new family with a younger woman. The financial strain infects every other aspect of their relationship, and it is not long before it trickles down to the kids, played by Apatow’s daughters, the younger of whom cannot act. At all.
The businesses that Pete and Debbie run are an indie record label and a boutique clothing store. These are what I refer to as mid-level dream jobs, the kind where you love the hell out of your job, but the price for doing it is that you’ll never make much money. Pete and Debbie, however, own a massive house and are living beyond their means, and Apatow somehow expects people to feel sorry for them. Needless to say, it is extremely difficult to do so. Does Apatow really think that a moviegoing public suffering through double-digit unemployment is going to give a damn about the guy with a hot wife and the “problems” involving his record label? To most people, Pete’s won the lottery. How can Apatow have that big of a blind spot about how the rest of the world lives?
On the plus side, Debbie isn’t half the miserable harpy that she was in “Knocked Up.” One wonders if Apatow realized that Katherine Heigl may have had a point when she criticized the female characters in that movie, and did his wife Mann a solid by softening her around the edges. To make up for this, though, Apatow makes Pete the primary villain, where before he was just a doofus. It doesn’t work – they’re still unlikable, just for different reasons than before.
And remember, this is a comedy, though it’s one of the least funny comedies you’ll see this or any other year. There are some amusing bits here and there, but they’re always part of a throwaway follow-up line; the bits that seem designed to bring the big laugh all fall flat. Apatow’s instincts are just wrong across the board here, and no scene defines this better than the bit where Pete and Debbie are called to school to discuss a highly inappropriate confrontation Debbie had with a boy in her older daughter’s class. The scene is meant to be a moral victory for Pete and Debbie after a series of setbacks because they stood together and faced this issue as a united front, but they only achieved said victory by lying through their teeth and taking advantage of the emotional problems of the boy’s mother (Melissa McCarthy). It’s kind of sickening to watch.
Apatow surely knows the reality of turning 40 (at least we hope he does), but also knows that it isn’t terribly sexy, and that he’d have trouble selling the story of two responsible adults looking for a little adventure. So he took the easy way out and made his characters dishonest and irresponsible, because we all know that there is nothing funnier than when a wife finds out her husband is lying to her, and they’re about to lose their house. Forget “Secrets and Lies” as an alternate title: “This Is 40” should really be called “Grow the Fuck Up.”