Complaining about a Judd Apatow movie being too long is as pointless as complaining about a Kubrick film being too cold or an Eli Roth film being too violent. Apatow has constructed something of a comedy empire, and, considering his massive success, it’s hard to believe he feels any need to change his instinct to make his pictures longer than people seem...read more
Complaining about a Judd Apatow movie being too long is as pointless as complaining about a Kubrick film being too cold or an Eli Roth film being too violent. Apatow has constructed something of a comedy empire, and, considering his massive success, it’s hard to believe he feels any need to change his instinct to make his pictures longer than people seem to want or expect from a comedy. That said, his midlife-crisis family comedy This Is 40 is too long.
Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann star as Pete and Debbie, the same married couple they played in Apatow’s Knocked Up. As the movie opens, Debbie is turning 40 but tells everybody she’s younger. She runs a small, boutique clothing store that’s breaking even financially, while Pete manages a retro-minded indie-music label that’s under serious financial strain just as they are trying to launch a new album by Graham Parker. Their money troubles are compounded by Pete’s dad Larry (Albert Brooks), who continually hits up his son for cash because he has toddler triplets after an overly successful fertilization treatment with his younger second wife.
Debbie has daddy issues as well. Her father (John Lithgow), an emotionally cold, highly successful surgeon, seems to want no part of his daughter’s life, even though they meet for lunch occasionally after not talking to each other for a lengthy period of time. All of these people, along with Debbie’s trainer, Pete’s employees, and salesgirls from Debbie’s boutique, arrive at the couple’s beautiful home for a birthday party where all the familial wounds are opened.
This is the fourth feature film directed by Judd Apatow, and it’s the first one where the plot really doesn’t seem to matter at all. It’s full of scenes that all revolve around the themes of the picture -- family, age, marriage -- but very little ever seems at stake. He’s filled the script with enough jokes and coaxes enough witty improvisations from his cast that the movie never dies, but at the same time, we never feel that this marriage is genuinely at risk or that Pete and Debbie will have to live on the street if they’re forced to sell their house due to money problems.
Almost everybody in the film gets at least one good laugh. Familiar Apatow troupe players like Jason Segel reliably bring the funny, Paul Rudd again deftly combines humor and pathos, and comedy veterans like Robert Smigel -- who is fantastic in an early scene in which his character and Pete fantasize about their wives dying -- lend a hand.
Apatow’s films usually run long because he’ll let moments play past their typical end point, hoping to find an unexpected laugh when people interact with each other past the logical conclusion of a scene. He continues doing that here, but often the results just feel like repetition rather than an addition. That makes This Is 40 feel like the longest of his movies.
However, the biggest problem with the picture is that the comedy seems in service of a story that never comes close to being hilarious, engaging, or profound. Unexpectedly, the only two characters who emerge as something other than trivial are Pete and Debbie’s fathers. When Brooks and Lithgow finally play a scene together at the climactic birthday party, you wish Apatow had trashed the rest of the script and made it about the two of them. He could have called it That Is 65. Brooks’ last scene, in which he comforts the daughter-in-law he knows doesn’t like him, is both humorous and poignant; unfortunately, it only underscores the weightlessness of the rest of the movie.