x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

This Is 40: the feel-bad comedy of the holiday season

If This Is 40 feels a bit unsatisfying at the end, perhaps that's because it's meant as an interlude, a snapshot, a moment in time as the title suggests.

This is 40. Courtesy Universal Pictures
This is 40. Courtesy Universal Pictures

This Is 40
Director: Judd Apatow
Starring: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Jason Segel, Megan Fox
****

This Is 40 is every inch a Judd Apatow movie, from the pop culture references and potty mouths to the blunt body humour and escapist drug use. And like all of Apatow’s movies, it’s a good 20 minutes too long. But within that affectionately messy sprawl lies a maturation, an effort to convey something deeper, more personal and more substantive. That goes beyond the casting of his real-life wife, Leslie Mann, as half of the couple in question, and the Apatow children, Maude and Iris, as the family’s daughters in this sort-of-sequel to the 2007 hit Knocked Up.

As the writer and director, Apatow seems more interested in finding tough nuggets of truth than easy laughs. You can see a bit more clearly what he was aiming for with the ambitious failure of the serious, self-indulgent Funny People from 2009. Much of the banter between the Los Angeles couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) can be very funny, but frequently it’s raw and painful as they have the kind of conversations about kids, finances and sex that might make many people in the audience feel an uncomfortable shiver of familiarity.

The film takes place during the three-week period when Pete and Debbie are both turning 40 (although Debbie likes to pretend she’s still 38). Birthday parties, fights about money, school confrontations, bratty kid flare-ups and awkward attempts at reconciling with parents are among the many events that occur during this vulnerable time of transition. Rudd’s puppy-doggish, everyman likeability still serves him well after all these years, and while Mann is humorously sharp and sometimes a bit too screechy, there’s also more depth to her performance than she’s been called upon to show before.

If This Is 40 feels a bit unsatisfying at the end, perhaps that’s because it’s meant as an interlude, a snapshot, a moment in time as the title suggests. It’s the feel-bad comedy of the holiday season – and that’s what makes it good.