Movie Review: This Is 40
By Matthew Huntley
January 10, 2013
After three feature films, Judd Apatow has taken the old adage, “Write about what you know,” a tad too far. It’s obvious the characters in his movies are a reflection of himself and/or family members, since every film he’s directed - The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Funny People - feels deeply personal. Each is like a section from Apatow’s diary.
But it’s gotten to the point where I no longer care about this man’s personal life, and I’m no longer interested in his thoughts on sex, marriage, kids, careers, family and the idea of growing old. Apatow has exhausted these themes and now when his characters talk about or face the growing pains of everyday life, it comes off as stress-inducing noise rather than thoughtful or comedic insights into human nature.
Take Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s real-life wife), the married couple we first met in Knocked Up and who now have a movie all to themselves with This Is 40. Their marriage exists at one of two extremes: they’re either very angry at each other or madly in love. There’s no middle ground, and it proved tiring to watch them either constantly fight or kiss and make up. In between, they deal with life’s random happenings and struggles, but we always get the sense one of them is about to explode because they’re finally going to realize how incompatible they are as a couple. That uncomfortable, anxious feeling stays with us throughout the film, which may be the point because Apatow wants us to get a sense of how they feel after being married 13 years, but it’s not pleasant to watch and it doesn’t really teach us anything.
Throughout the movie, I kept asking myself, what’s funny here? What’s there to enjoy by watching Pete and Debbie contend with life’s incidental problems? Maybe if we cared about them more, but strangely enough, the movie seems to have contempt for its characters, as if it’s begging Pete and Debbie to call it quits because they’re so cruel to each other. As a result, so are we, and by the end, I wanted Pete and Debbie to put each other out of their misery just so I could be put out of mine.
Some of the points the movie makes are that relationships of any kind are hard to manage and you sometimes want to kill the other person; that our bodies age, a fact we become more sensitive to the older we get; and that it’s difficult to mend old family relationships when only one side seems to be making an effort. We know all this just by having lived, and Apatow liberally throws all of these subjects into the mix, but the problem is that’s all he does. He doesn’t bother saying anything meaningful about them. This Is 40 observes a lot of problems but doesn’t offer any solutions, and so it just seems to run around in circles as we grow restless trying to find a purpose for it. Apatow’s friends and family are likely to chuckle at the material because they’ll see a part of themselves depicted on-screen, but what about the rest of us? The appeal of This Is 40 seems limited to those who know Apatow personally.