Not too long after the events of Knocked Up, This is 40 takes us back into the lives of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), a regular couple who are barely hanging on. Pete’s business is failing while Debbie is struggling with middle age and they have both settled into a rut, individually and in relation to one another. With a myriad of real world problems surrounding them, Pete and Debbie must find a way to keep their family afloat while rekindling their relationship. If you read that description of This is 40 and thought, “Wait, I thought this was a comedy” then you have stumbled upon one of the two HUGE problems with the film: it struggles mightily to be funny. Now, consider that carefully. I did not write that the film is unfunny which is why it fails; I wrote that it struggles to be funny. As a drama, This is 40 would be fairly effective and relatively realistic look at marriage and middle age. But since Judd Apatow insists on his film working as a comedy, it spends far too much time trying to flesh out the funny. As a result, the authenticity of the drama aspect is rendered devoid of any pop. Apatow seems to want his film to be an accurate representation of his subject matter but he also desperately wants you to laugh at the world his characters operate in and the two parts of the film do not blend naturally.
The second big issue that This is 40 has working against it is the extreme bloat that inhabits virtually every second of the film. Apatow’s unwillingness to edit his films is widely known but in many cases I have found the extra content, the fat that would have been cut in a normal film, to be appealing even if the result is a much too-long runtime. Case in point: in the hands of most directors, I think it’s fair to say that the Pete and Debbie characters would have been cut down to the bare bones in Knocked Up and yet their added screentime made them popular enough to warrant a spin-off/sequel. In this case, however, the fat needed to be trimmed oh so badly. In fact, if Apatow had cut out literally every other character beyond Pete and Debbie and replaced them with background actors with limited lines, it would have been for the better. Some of the side characters are decent enough (shockingly enough, Megan Fox’s portrayal might have been the best of the bunch) but Apatow crams in about a dozen of his buddies whose characters have LITERALLY no bearing on the film in any way. For about 15 minutes it’s fun to play the, “Oh, look! It’s Jason Segel!” game but that allure wears off quickly and as the film drags on (and on and on and on) you start to hate these little asides that only serve to stretch the film toward the two and a half hour mark.
The only truly redeeming qualities of This is 40 (and the reasons why I consider it a passable film) are the portrayals by Rudd and especially Mann. I loved Pete and Debbie in Knocked Up and as long as they are on screen here, the film works (to varying degrees). They have a natural chemistry and they work off of each other quite well even when the sequences are uncomfortable. But the second one of the ancillary characters steps on to the screen your attention begins to wane and you lose focus on what the movie is about in the first place. All in all, This is 40 is not a complete waste of time but unfortunately it’s much closer to that level that it needs to be.
This is 40 Director: Judd Apatow Cast: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, every other actor in Hollywood Rated: R (strong language, nudity, some drug use) Recommended For: Very strong-willed Apatow loyalists