A quick Google search will show you the average life expectancy for North Americans is around 80 years, which may be why turning 40 freaks out so many people. This Is 40, the new film from writer-director Judd Apatow, is a sharply perceptive, hilarious and moving comedy-drama about how the regular stress and frustration of family life gets amped up by the arrival of that magic age.
Billed as a “sort-of sequel” to Apatow’s 2007 Knocked Up, This Is 40 revisits bickering couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) as their 40th birthdays arrive within days of each other. Debbie’s is first, and she’s not having any of it, celebrating with 38 candles on her cake and lying about her birth date on medical forms. Pete tries his best to be supportive, but with two daughters in the house as well, he just as often wants some alone time.
Like any married couple of their age, Pete and Debbie’s lives are complicated by all sorts of factors: a large mortgage, squabbling kids, busy schedules, and an unfulfilling sex life. There are also huge money problems: Debbie’s retail clothing business is somehow missing twelve thousand dollars, and Pete’s fledgling music label barely sells enough records to stay afloat. At the same time, he’s been lending money to his overbearing father Larry (Albert Brooks), despite telling Debbie otherwise. This is a relationship on the edge, and Debbie’s insistence on making some turning-40-inspired life changes is about to make things even crazier.
These are all situations any married couple can identify with, and Apatow finds the right balance between the unsettling drama of stressful experience and some outrageously extreme comic reactions to it. Even more uncanny is his insight into the influence of modern times on these characters’ lives. Debbie visits a regular doctor, but is just as likely to take her sick child to an Eastern-medical healer. The couple struggles with their teenage daughter’s overuse of technology, yet Pete is continually found on the toilet with his iPad. Even the older generation is caught up in the peculiarities of 21st-century life – both Pete and Debbie’s fathers have second lives with young children. And everyone throws around the word “Happy” as if it’s the Holy Grail that will solve all their problems. This Is 40 is a true product of its time.
Rudd and Mann are well matched, with excellent comic timing and an ability to make their director’s pseudo-improvisational style seem natural. Mann has the tougher job, playing off the irrationality of mid-life crisis with her need to be responsible. It’s a tightrope performance, but she gets it right without grating. Equally good are Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow, who show precocious talent as Pete and Debbie’s kids. Additional comic relief is provided by Apatow’s usual stable of frequent collaborators, including Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd, and Melissa McCarthy. If anything, the one problem is that there are too many characters, causing the film to run too long and occasionally feel artificial.
With his body of work, Apatow seems to have tracked the stages of life, from school age (TV’s Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared) to the 30s (Knocked Up) and now the 40s. We can only wonder if (and hope) he’ll continue to move on – it might make growing older easier for all of us.
Tags: movie review