Mark Reviews Movies

This Is 40

THIS IS 40

1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Judd Apatow

Cast: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Jason Segel

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material)

Running Time: 2:14

Release Date: 12/21/12


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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 20, 2012

After a while, it becomes difficult to determine whether Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are being genuine or sarcastic whenever they talk; soon after that, it becomes quite easy not to care either way. This Is 40 is about two unhappy people in an unhappy marriage who seem to get some kind of perverse pleasure out of knowing that they make each other unhappy. They are, then, perfect for each other.

Of course, that doesn't mean we want to spend this much time with them as they try to figure out their easily solvable problems and sort out their respective emotional baggage, most of which, perhaps, could be resolved if they could manage to talk to each other and others without loading almost everything they say with sarcasm. It's an unending cycle, and given how little depth and how many issues writer/director Judd Apatow affords these characters, it starts to feel endless, too.

It begins on Debbie's birthday; she is now 40 but insists on maintaining that she's only 38. This becomes something of a complication when she goes in for her annual physical, a montage that alternates between her and her husband without much point beyond how particularly unpleasant a visit to the doctor becomes when a multitude of invasive tests need to be performed (colonoscopy for her, prostate exam for him). If only they were aware how uncomfortable it is to be in their presence, they might have a little perspective on things.

Debbie doesn't want to make a big deal out of her birthday, which makes Pete a little uneasy (They're both really sensitive about being even slightly ill at ease, lest their little bubble of self-involvement burst). The plan is to have a big party for his 40th birthday, which is coming in the next few days. Before that event arrives, though, Pete and/or Debbie (who were side players in Apatow's Knocked Up and obviously best left to that status) will deal with the old wounds left by an absentee father, try to uncover the mystery of thousands of dollars that have been stolen from Debbie's clothing store, prepare a campaign to sell the newest album of a band that no one really knows exists anymore, put up with the challenges of raising two daughters (Maude and Iris Apatow) who can tell just how tenuous their parents' relationship is, verbally abuse a teenage boy and his mother, and so, so much more.

The lack of focus in Apatow's screenplay could be forgiven if the characters had any even marginally endearing qualities, but the best they can do is provide a few laughs spread sporadically throughout their many trials and curious tribulations (It's never a good sign when the scene of a character farting is the funniest one). Perhaps Apatow intended some satirical edge, for example, in a scene in which Pete cries over financial worries while sitting in his luxury car, but it just comes across oblivious to the implications of the scene's setup—the problem flies in the face of external appearance.

Financial quandaries are heavy on both of their minds. In addition to the missing money from the store, Pete's startup record label is on the verge of bankruptcy after signing a slew of musicians without any mainstream appeal. After the family accountant says they'll have to sell the house, Pete keeps the extent of their problems a secret, which leads to inevitable scene in which she'll talk to the accountant unaware of the problem and be shocked to hear it. He's also giving his father (Albert Brooks) money under the table—another thing he hides.

Debbie, meanwhile, has a secret of her own: She's pregnant. She keeps this information from Pete (Again, one of the central potential conflicts in the movie is based on the fact that Debbie cannot tell if Paul is being sincere or sarcastic when asked about a hypothetical third child, yet neither even considers that maybe there's something amiss with their communication skills), and this sets up the inevitable scene in which a Pete learns the news from a random character and is shocked to hear it. Throughout the heavy-handed establishment of preordained conflicts are jokes that go from lazy (a marijuana cookie) to randomly tossing out pop-culture references (too many to name) to downright mean (Seriously, Debbie verbally abuses a teenage boy and then lies about it).

There is no easy way for us to relate to these characters, and their personalities and behavior ensure that we don't care to work out a complicated way to do so. This Is 40 is a contrived and sometimes callous look at two people we'd rather not see again.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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