Film Reviews

A typical night for Team Apatow.

Apatow’s fable? Laugh in the face of death

The New Year holiday always brings out confusing emotions in me: bittersweet and nostalgic regret for the year just passed, unadulterated stress for what might lie ahead, the constant reminder that I’m one year closer to being dead. I may need to talk to someone, especially since we’ve just come through the other end of 2012, a year in which we were forced to confront our mortality in more ways than were comfortable. Which is why This is 40–the latest holiday domestic dramedy written and directed by Judd Apatow–might just befit the season best.

I didn’t go in thinking 40 would be a forecast of life on the hill; I’m still 12 years from the top and know that everybody’s 40 is the new 40 (to them). To each his own mid-life crisis. I was, however, excited to see how Apatow and company (more frequently Leslie Mann, his real-life wife, and Paul Rudd, his real-life buddy) would preach about it from the other side of the summit.

This is 40 is subtitled as a “sort-of sequel to Knocked Up,” the 2007 Apatow movie starring Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen as two young one-nighers who end up having a baby, and Rudd and Mann’s characters from that movie, Pete and Debbie, filled the roles of the designated adults, as it was. In 40, we spill into their lives a few years after Knocked Up takes place and stumble alongside Pete and Deb through what’s allegedly a week of their life (although it’s hard to tell). 40 is constructed, somewhat unevenly, as more of a two-hour series of biographical vignettes illustrating humanity’s great dilemma–that we all die–strung together without any sure story arch and seemingly ripped straight out of the Apatow/Mann household (even Apatow’s real-life daughters play Pete and Debbie’s on screen).

The grown-ups’ finances are hemorrhaging money: Pete continues to lend money to his guilt-inducing Jewish father despite Pete’s failing record label, while Debbie’s boutique may or may not be getting ripped off thousands of dollars by her most successful employee–the easily cast, empty brick house Megan Fox. Some of the funniest moments come from their youngest daughter, Charlotte (Iris Apatow), even if it sometimes seems as if daddy Judd told her just to repeat whatever he said to her off camera.

Apatow has a knack for making good comedies a little too long (as evidenced by Funny People, a movie which would have been almost perfect if 45 minutes shorter), and 40 errs in kind. We enter the arena at Debbie’s 40th birthday party and exit after Pete’s, but bounce around through screaming matches and domestic throw downs in nearly every scene. The discomfort that comes from watching Pete (spread eagle) guilt Debbie into diagnosing a hemorrhoid, or literally traveling through Debbie’s ass as she gets a colonoscopy, adds seeming domestic verity, but after all the harsh insults and awkward interactions with distant parents, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d outlasted my invite.

Funny People is still Apatow at his best, but This is 40, with his wife, children and buddy acting out his life, might be his most autobiographical yet. And it’s funny. Melissa McCarthy, as a rabid mom of their daughter’s classmate, delivers one of the best bits of improv in the movie, but Mann shows she’s equally adept at finding the tragedy in humor, and vice versa. Ultimately, This is 40 makes us accept that while–yes–we’re all getting older (at the same time, even), we’re also all in this together. If we don’t laugh at it, what else is left? After watching This Is 40, I’m not sure I ever want to get there.