This Is 40
Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Jason Segel, Annie Mumolo, Robert Smigel, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi, Graham Parker
R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material
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There are a lot of imitators these days of the Judd Apatow esthetic he established in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. One of those copy cats is Apatow himself. In This Is 40, Apatow turns his sense of entitlement and self-appreciation into a bloated, barely-believable mess barely saved by its leads.
The story surrounds a married couple, both turning 40, and how their lives have begun to unravel as their frustration bubbles over. Paul Rudd plays a hapless record store owner with a life-long dream of becoming a record producer. When he sets his sights on a has-been on aging musician Graham Parker (played by himself), his optimism is quickly drowned by a series of questionable business deals that has lead him towards financial ruin that a simple anniversary concert won’t rescue.
Rudd is one of the best comedic talents working today, his deadpan style is endearing, drawing you into his disjointed and hilarious take on reality. That creativity is stifled by a weak script, but not so much as to render his performances miss-able. As his wife, Leslie Mann excels at the material through her vulnerability and credible frustration.
While it’s no surprise that John Lithgow nails his brief appearance in the film, it’s more surprising that Megan Fox delivers a better performance than either Albert Brooks or Melissa McCarthy. While her character comes off as a bit of a selfish airhead, Fox gives it a light enough touch of sensitivity that it works quite well. That’s not to say that Brooks and McCarthy are bad, they aren’t, but their characters are so thinly drawn that you could open up any book of stereotypes and pull them directly from it.
Apart from these accomplished actors giving what they can, there are two cast members who fail to achieve anything of measure. Maude Apatow and Iris Apatow, the children of director Apatow and star Mann, have not an iota of their mother’s talent. Nepotism isn’t a bad thing in itself, but when your offspring aren’t up to the acting challenge their charcters require, it further cements the egotistical nature of Apatow’s stymied creativity.
Apatow’s screenplay is leaden, filled with self-righteous indignation that punishes his characters for their foolishness instead of supporting their altruism. Apatow’s knack of creating wildly excessive characters is almost akin to what Wes Anderson has done for years prior. Only with Anderson, his characters are quirky with purpose; whereas Apatow’s are purposefully gimmicky. These aren’t charcters drawn from real life, they mock them. Apatow seems intent on finding the realistic absurdism of his subjects while Anderson prefers fantastical absurdism. While both directors have a tendency to come off a bit cocky at times, Anderson is a tremendously better showman.
Here’s where Apatow’s entrenched mythos finds itself struggling to distinguish itself in the marketplace. Admittedly, the first two times he engaged the audience with this style it worked. The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up were successes, but producing and executing since then have generated a bloated sense of identity in Apatow that hasn’t materialized in his output. This Is 40 showcases the limitations of middle-aged comedy tropes by highlighting just how far outside normalcy one has to go to find honest humor. Reality itself is a bit too bland to be adequately mimicked and it makes for a tedious experience when forced to re-live these experiences perpetually.
Can Apatow ever find a new take on his material or will he suffer the fate of another generationally-locked director like John Hughes. Hughes had significantly more room to work with as the lives of teenagers are ripe for quirky take-offs and unusual twists, but eventually Hughes ran out of material and while he had some late-career hits, he never quite lived up to the expectations put on him after his successful Brat Pack collaborations.
While it would be cruel to say this two-hour film is without redeeming qualities, especially after the effort put in by the majority of its cast, Apatow’s film is two-hours of frustration. While the audience is brought full circle by the end, it’s because of Rudd and Mann that this occurs. Apatow’s too busy trying to sabotage his own nest egg to help.
September 24, 2013