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4 reviews, 8 user ratings

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This Is 40
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by Peter Sobczynski

"a.k.a. The 40-Year-Old Bores"
1 stars

Imagine being forced to sit down and watch more than two solid hours of home movies of another family goofing off and engaging in personal jokes and references that only they could possibly understand or appreciate. Now imagine being asked to pay $12 bucks for that alleged privilege. Is essence, that is exactly what audiences are being asked to do with "This is 40," the latest film from writer-director Judd Apatow and a formless and shapeless mess which he seems more concerned with getting his friends and immediate family onto the screen than in giving them anything of value to do than any major filmmaker since Hal Needham did the "Cannonball Run" movies. Of course, the Needham films were never meant to be anything more than instantly disposable junk and only a fool could get truly upset at the sight of him and his buddies screwing around. Apatow, on the other hand, is a far more gifted filmmaker but you wouldn't know that from his work here, which is so disjointed and bloated that it almost makes "The Hobbit" look like a model of restraint by comparison.

In the years since the release of Apatow's 2007 hit "Knocked Up," have you spent many a sleepless night wondering about whatever became of Pete and Debbie, the couple whose struggles regarding marriage and parenthood presented one possible future to the unexpectedly expecting couple played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl? Well, that is what "This is 40" has to offer in a film that isn't a sequel to "Knocked Up" as much as it is a spin-off in the manner of many a television show over the years. Picking up five years later, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are still trying to grapple with the tricky nature of marriage while raising daughters Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) along with a whole new group of personal and professional pressures. The two of them are about to hit the big 4-0, though Debbie, not wanting to admit it to herself, insists that she is only 38 even though everyone else knows otherwise. We learn that Pete left his music industry job in order to start up his own label, one dedicated to "real music" and "real musicians" instead of acts that actually move product, and its future existence is now predicated almost entirely on the success or failure of a new CD he is releasing by iconoclastic pub-rock singer Graham Parker (played, in a smart casting stroke, by Graham Parker himself), a cult figure who didn't exactly burn up the sales charts during his heyday three decades earlier. As for Debbie, her clothing store is missing over $12,000 in revenue and her suspicions fall on Desi (Megan Fox), a sexy employee whose car, outfits and apartment are all way above her pay grade.

The film covers roughly one week in their lives and if nothing else, it is certainly an eventful one. Pete tries to conceal his precarious financial position, exacerbated by disappointing sales of the Parker album (in one of the funniest moments, an ambulance passes by and someone remarks "There goes the last Graham Parker fan"), from Debbie while trying to figure out if they will have to sell the house to survive. Debbie, feeling bummed out about her age and the discovery that Pete has been using Viagra, goes out clubbing with Desi in order to feel young and free and sexy again. The two also deal with their tricky relationships with their fathers--Pete's dad (Albert Brooks) is an amiable goof who continues to borrow money from his son to help provide for his new family even after it is apparent that he can no longer afford it while Debbie's (John Lithgow) is a standoffish surgeon who has been absent for most of her life. The two also take some time off to spend the night at a spa retreat where they get stoned and return home vowing to become a happier and healthier family by eating better and limiting the use of their various electronic gadgets, a promise that does not go over well with the kids, especially the one who is currently plowing through "Lost" on her iPad. Everything culminates, as expected, with their joint birthday party where, not surprisingly, everything pretty much goes wrong (starting with Debbie's speech where she condescendingly "forgives" everyone for the unhappiness they have inspired over the years) and where the fallout could either destroy their marriage for could or potentially bring them closer together.

In the best of his previous efforts, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up" on the big screen and the short-lived masterpieces "Freaks & Geeks" and "Undeclared" on the tube, Judd Apatow has demonstrated a facility for blending outrageous humor with a surprisingly sincere element of heartfelt sentiment, creating characters that were both amusing and flawed in ways that were instantly identifiable to viewers and an ability for attracting and nurturing talent; if you look at the careers of most of the new comedy stars that have emerged in the last few years, you will discover that he has had some connection with them. At the same time, however, he has also developed a distressing willingness to dispense with the well-crafted stories and characters that garnered him all the attention in the first place and replace them with haphazard and increasingly long-winded narrative constructions that are little more than excuses for all of his buddies and loved ones to show up and goof off in front of the camera. This was the central problem with his previous film, "Funny People," and after the underwhelming reception that it received, one might have expected that Apatow would have tightened things up with his next project in order to give viewers something of the high quality that he is capable of delivering.

Instead, Apatow apparently decided to go in the opposite direction with "This is 40" because it is such a mess in both concept and execution that there are moments when it almost feels like a parody of itself. For starters, there is no real story to speak of--merely a compendium of half-baked ideas that he has thrown together seemingly at random instead of developing into something that might actually work. As a result, there is no narrative drive to speak of and this grows increasingly wearying as the 2-hour-plus running time drags on and on. Then there is the fact that, with very few exceptions, the characters are uniformly obnoxious, self-absorbed twits with whom no sensible human being would want to spend any amount of time. This wouldn't necessarily be a problem it Apatow had remembered to make them funny or interesting at the same time but they are pretty much intolerable across the board. At its essence, "This is 40" is a film that asks us to spend time and money watching self-absorbed people who have seemingly achieved all of their dreams and yet still remain unsatisfied with lives and lifestyles that most viewers would do most anything to have on their own--the kind where our heroes can bemoan their money problems in one scene and in the next throw a lavish catered garden party for themselves in the next. As Albert Brooks proved with his 1985 masterpiece "Lost in America," it is possible to pull off such a tricky feat but it requires a focused and intelligent approach to the material and just the right tone but Apatow fails to hit upon either of those qualities at all. On the other hand, the film could have also come across as a skewering of the narcissistic behavior of its characters and their foibles but Apatow perversely seems to think that their swanky form of ennui is something that most moviegoers will respond to and pulls his potential punches throughout in this regard.

What is on display in abundance instead is an almost staggering level of self-indulgence and this is coming from someone who is generally loathe to use that term to describe any artistic endeavor on the basis that all art--at least the good and valuable kind--is self indulgent to some degree. And yet, I cannot think of a better way of describing the astounding solipsistic nature of what Apatow has offered up this time around. As with his last couple of films, he has cast his own wife and children in key roles and while that might have been cute once upon a time when they were only minor supporting players, putting them front-and-center as he does this time around doesn't work because it is clearly evident that when he is looking through the camera, he is seeing his wife and daughters instead of actors. If he had been looking at them dispassionately as mere performers, he too might have realized that his daughters have very little screen personality and that Leslie Mann, for all her charms, is not quite the incredibly funny and sexually vibrant actress that he clearly wants us to perceive her as being. (At this rate, Mann is closer to becoming the Sondra Locke of comedy than the new Carole Lombard.) As with his other films, he trots out any number of talented comedic performers and allows them to riff ad nauseum while the cameras are rolling. This worked well in something like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" but that was because the actors had a strong foundation from which to bounce ideas. Here, he is just indulging both his pals and his own ability to shape such material into a coherent whole and the result is nothing more than a seemingly endless string of not-so-funny riffs that play like an extended deleted scenes reel to a movie that you are lucky to have missed.

As bad as "This is 40" is, it does have a few compensating factors. Albert Brooks is as hilarious as ever as Pete's self-centered father and brings so much focus to the character in his brief appearances that you find yourself wishing that he could take the part and spin a movie of his own around it. I also liked John Lithgow in his turn as Debbie's dad as well--odd, isn't it, that Apatow would cast the guys that Dan Aykroyd killed off in "Twilight Zone-The Movie" as his father figures. Aside from them, the funniest performances come from two most unexpected sources. Playing himself, Graham Parker delivers a delightfully self-effacing turn that cheerfully pokes fun at himself, his own pretensions and his admittedly wayward career arc with a nice sense of irony and even delivers a couple of new tunes that find him reuniting with his former backup band The Rumour. The other funny performance comes from no less of a person than Megan Fox as the shop employee with a somewhat tricky second job. As written, the part isn't much to speak of and the punchline less so but Fox approaches it with a dry wit and quirky charm that suggests that beneath the undeniable sex-bomb exterior beats the heart of a true comedienne. There are also some lines of dialogue scattered throughout that come in out of nowhere and pretty much blindside us with unexpected laughter, just not enough of them to make much of a difference when all is said and done.

These moments aside, "This is 40" is an overlong and deeply underwhelming mess that is utterly lacking in the biting humor and keen observations of contemporary life that gave his earlier work such an undeniable lift. More disappointingly, the film seems to tackle a subject that would be of interest to his increasingly older fan base only to abandon it with a series of embarrassingly trite and smug platitudes about "being happy" mixed in with the occasional flat-out cop out. (While a film like "Knocked Up" was brave enough to suggest in its final moments that the future for its main characters was not entirely certain, this one wraps up one key plot strand with what can only be described as a deus-ex-Ryan Adams.) Instead, we get a rambling series of scenes that have of interest or value to say and which are so desperate to inspire shocked laughter that we are given not one but two scenes offering us ultra-up-close-and-personal tours of the rectal areas of the main characters. (I was about to suggest that these sequences could easily serve as metaphors for the entire film but held back on the basis that I suspect that nearly every other critic is going to make a similar observation.) That said, Judd Apatow has made good movies in the past and once he finally gets around to pulling our heads out of his ass, he may well get around to making them again. Maybe he can create a vehicle for the characters played by Albert Brooks and Megan Fox. If that doesn't work out, maybe he can take Pete and Debbie and stick them in yet another story. May I suggest "Anna Karenina"?

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23654&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/20/12 21:53:10
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User Comments

5/05/13 Edler Mixing serious issues (getting older, marital problems) with juvenile humor doesnít work 4 stars
3/11/13 Juan Sam Really funny movie mainly due to the performance of the cast I thought, esp. the girls! 4 stars
3/07/13 Daniel High Some decent jokes, but lacks thoughtful dialog. 3 stars
3/06/13 Kurt Better than I expected. Not as good as "Knocked Up," longer than it needed to be. 4 stars
2/28/13 survival gear Jetboil Personal Cooking System Stoves are one of the bedding department, I broke down and 2 stars
1/20/13 dmasz91 has some funny parts, but not as good as expected 3 stars
1/01/13 Davie Enjoyable and relatable. 4 stars
12/25/12 Flipsider Sure it's aimless and overlong... but still damn funny! 4 stars
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  21-Dec-2012 (R)
  DVD: 22-Mar-2013


  DVD: 12-Mar-2013

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