Movie Review: This Is 40
By Edwin Davies
December 28, 2012
Both characters are in denial about where they are in their lives - she says that she is 38, not 40, and is obsessed with physical fitness; he seems to be trying to recapture his youth by running a (failing) record label dedicated to releasing new records by old bands - and there is a real sense of malaise running throughout the film. It's Apatow's most nuanced film yet - a statement that probably needs to be taken with a whole tablespoon of salt - because the central relationship feels like it is rooted in something specific and real. The humor is often crass and broad, so anyone who hasn't warmed to Apatow yet is unlikely to be swayed by this film, but the heart is more pronounced than before.
For those who do like the Apatow brand of humor, there's plenty to like on display, particularly whenever the parents have to interact with their two young daughters. Again, there's a realness to their scenes together, particularly whenever the oldest daughter, Sadie, gets angry with the borderline idiotic behavior of her parents, but it never gets in the way of a good joke. There's also an extended joke about Sadie's obsession with Lost, which, whilst kind of a little bit behind the curve in 2012, winds up leading to a very funny scene in which Rudd gets very angry when she belittles Mad Men, and a surprisingly sweet one in which she watches the finale with her estranged grandfather (John Lithgow in fine, WASPish form). It's an interesting indicator of how well the film handles its two modes that the same element can be played in such different ways, working pretty well as both comedy and drama.
Outside of the marriage, which is very well drawn, the film is populated by dozens of ringers who do great, funny work. Chris O'Dowd and Lena Dunham are both charmingly scabrous as a pair of Rudd's employees; Jason Segel is very winning as Mann's personal trainer; whilst Melissa McCarthy shows up for a couple of scenes that demonstrate what an effortlessly funny improviser she is. Megan Fox also gives a surprisingly funny turn as an employee that Mann suspects of stealing from her shop, though that whole plotline does feel like one of the branches that could have been more rigorously pruned.
The standout supporting performer is the wonderful Albert Brooks, who plays Rudd's cash-strapped father. Much as in something like Broadcast News, Brooks proves equally adept at being preternaturally funny, throwing out one-liners in a way which is enviably effortless, whilst also being sadly human. He gets probably the best moment in the film when he has a heartfelt, incredibly funny reconciliation with his daughter-in-law, which is then immediately undercut by him having to borrow money from her for a cab. He knows how to undercut emotion without undermining it like few other actors, and it's great to see him in such a role in a film that people might actually see.
After the fascinating muddle that was Funny People, it's nice to see that Judd Apatow has returned with something better, but it's also gratifying to see that he hasn't completely retreated back into his old ways. In spite of the jokes being much the same, This Is 40 is a much more mature, thoughtful and involving film than anything he has done before, and suggests that he is continuing to evolve as a film-maker (it's worth noting that This Is 40 is an often gorgeous-looking film, displaying great work from cinematographer Phedon Papamichael). It suffers from some of the issues of Apatow's previous films - namely lumpy, uneven pacing - and anyone who hasn't been won over by his past films is unlikely to be won over by this one. However, it is still his best film yet.