Judd Apatow continues to expand on his brand of comedy, giving us films that are deeper, more risk taking and edgy in their humor than The 40-Year Old Virgin. I’m a big fan of his dark, not easy to like but truly hilarious Funny People and felt The Five Year Engagement, which he produced and was released this year, was underrated.
His most famous film as a director is arguably Knocked Up, which this is a “sort-of” sequel to. It stars Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, reprising their roles as a seemingly always-fighting couple whose constant battles to keep their children in line have made them become big, unruly kids themselves.
This isn’t the first time Apatow has cast his wife, Mann, in his films and his two adorable daughters, Maude and Iris, plays her children, making it hard to determine how much or how little of this is autobiographical. Whether you know most of the Apatow clan is in the cast or not, the casting works, as Mann, a scene stealing wonder in all of his films and his children have ace comic timing and the acting chops to make even the more serious moments feel true. For some, the level of honesty on display will cut deep. It did for me, as I recognized aspects of my own marriage and found it comforting to laugh at things that I thought only I was going through.
Rudd’s Pete is trying to keep his music producer job and company afloat but finds that pop music of the 21st century is more geared to young girls, a loaded satirical point that pays off with many scenes exploring the generational gap in musical tastes. Mann’s Debbie is also struggling with her clothing store business, but for a different reason–her store is run by two wildly contrasting women, a carefree sexpot (Megan Fox, who still can’t act) and an elfin co-worker who accuses the other of stealing (played by Charlene Yi, who’s hysterical).
It’s also great to see John Lithgow finally given a role of real depth after years of tiny parts in unworthy films. Playing Mann’s neglectful father, he has great moments but his character’s big change of heart feels rushed. Albert Brooks is fantastic as Rudd’s responsibility-free Dad and “Bridesmaid” scene stealers Chris O’Dowd and Melissa McCarthy once again hijack the movie whenever they’re on screen.
But there is a lack of tidiness in the writing, as well as Apatow’s tendency to resort to crass humor to balance out the tougher moments. Still, if this is his most personal film yet, he’s looking at a film legacy that would put him in line with Mel Brooks, as his films are almost always reliably hilarious.
The sequence that burns the deepest for me is when Pete and Debbie take a weekend getaway to be alone and savor hours of being alone and away from their kids. Once they get back home and in the door, the linger of their romantic time off pops like a soap bubble and they’re right back keeping their daughters from killing one another. There is an honesty here that is startling as well as mercilessly funny.
Rudd is always good (don’t believe me? Look at his debut film, Halloween 6–even in that turkey, he’s solid!) but Mann deserves award consideration for her work. She was worthy for her turn in Funny People but what she does here is even more difficult and just as special.
This Is 40
★ ★ ★ ★
Rated R / 134 Min.