I went to a screening of Judd Apatow’s latest comedy because I needed a few laughs, and This Is 40 provided a few, but it’s also much more dramatic than I anticipated. Which isn’t a bad thing, when Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are anchoring it.
The “sort of” sequel to Knocked Up opens with Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) enjoying, ah, each other in the shower until he admits he uses Viagra, which she takes as meaning he doesn’t find her attractive enough to get it up naturally. This is not something she wants to hear on her fortieth birthday. Pete is also turning forty the same week, and what follows is their examination of their lives, who they used to be, who they are now fifteen years and two children later, and whether they like where they’re headed.
Rudd and Mann have very good chemistry, making each argument believable and every moment of joy seem well earned. Some viewers might judge Pete and Debbie for being too navel-gazing or having privileged people’s problems, but I thought the two leads managed to make their characters relatable as they deal with stressful issues. Mann’s performance is especially complex, her face registering Debbie’s every thought and feeling, going from neurotic to vulnerable to sad to tough, sometimes all in the same scene. And when Debbie sits at a table with a bunch of men and declare she’s the only one there with balls, I agreed with her.
Once again, Mann and Apatow’s daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow, play Pete and Debbie’s kids in the movie. Iris as the younger child is cute, but Sadie, the teen character Maude plays, is unbearable, screaming throughout the whole movie, angry at everyone and everything. It’s too bad because the younger Sadie was so winning and witty in Knocked Up. Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi also return as Jason and Jodi, but it’s a bit odd that Alison, Katherine Heigl’s character, doesn’t drop by or at least call to wish her older sister a happy milestone birthday.
The movie is uneven because some gross jokes are included among the crises the characters encounter. It was as if Judd Apatow, who wrote and directed, didn’t trust his core audience (e.g. viewers who think people getting high, farting, and getting rectal exams are funny) can handle more grown-up issues. Some restraint was shown, though, and when these jokes appeared, they didn’t go too long or too far. This is 40? This must be a more mature Apatow.
Nerd verdict: Apatow grows up
Photos: Universal Pictures