Let’s get the awkwardness out of the way first, shall we? This is 40 is essentially The Judd Apatow Story, written and directed by Apatow, with Apatow’s wife (Leslie Mann) playing his wife, Apatow’s two daughters (Iris and Maude) playing his two kids, and, well, Paul Rudd playing Apatow himself. And yes, there are sex scenes in this film. (Wonder if Apatow gave Rudd notes along the lines of: “No, that’s not actually how I do it.”) Okay, so it’s weird. Can we all just move on with our lives now?
Because, This is 40, which bills itself as the “sort of sequel to Knocked Up” is actually pretty great. It suffers from a lot of the same problems of Apatow’s other (also great) comedies: It’s overly long, a tad self-indulgent, and it never met a bit it didn’t want to milk to death. But it’s also sweet, smart, funny, insightful and, not surprisingly, feels remarkably lived in and real. (If I didn’t know better, I’d say that was an actual family up on that screen. Oh. . . wait.)
Indeed, the American film it most reminds me of is Parenthood (the Steve Martin version; not the TV series), which had a similar mix of insight into the joys and heartaches of suburban American life and a tendency toward overly sitcommy tics.
Rudd and Mann play Pete and Debbie, happily married, two kids, nice yard, the works. They love each other, but sometimes they can’t stand each other, too, as it often goes. They still have sex, but not as much—and they’ve reached the open-bathroom-door phase of the relationship where the magic and mystery is gone.
All this is exacerbated by the fact that Pete is under a lot of pressure at the new record label he just started. (Owning a record label is too “movie-ish” a profession, if you ask me, especially since the film is trying to depict this as an “everyfamily”; but at least Apatow didn’t make Rudd a film director). He loves classic indie rock, like Graham Parker (gamely playing himself), and is stunned to discover that the rest of the country doesn’t share his affection. Suddenly, Debbie’s boutique that she runs as a sort of hobby has become a necessary bread winner in the home.
And then there are the in-laws: Debbie’s wealthy, mostly absentee father (John Lithgow playing what is, alas, the film’s broadest and least convincing character) and a wonderful Albert Brooks as Pete’s ironically sad sack, ever-mooching father (he’s remarried, broke, and has rowdy toddler triplets he can’t be bothered to tell apart).
There are two girls—the older, Sadie, an increasingly petulant teenager; and the younger, Charlotte, feeling left out of her sister’s secretive new world.
I love that This is 40 addresses the difficulty of navigating the minefield of teens and technology—Pete and Debbie read Sadie’s Facebook conversations and punish her by turning off the WiFi—but I felt a bit where they confront a would-be cyber bully went on too long. This is partly due to Apatow’s tendency to reward comic actors he loves: Melissa McCarthy, of Bridesmaids fame, plays the bully’s mother—and he lets her riff with impunity.
But that’s the thing: Everything is generous in this Apatow film. The humanity, the breathing room he gives to the actors, the running time (134 minutes). Heck, Apatow was even generous enough to lend Paul Rudd his wife.