Many people are familiar with the recent rise of the “Apatow-assembly line of movies” that has overtaken cinematic comedy over the last 8 years (see any film starring Jonah Hill or Steve Carell). What most don’t realize is that the talented writer/director/producer has actually only written and directed four major motion pictures. With his latest venture billed as “The Sort of Sequel to ‘Knocked Up.’”
Judd Apatow continues his brand of raunchy humor trickled with relatable life events and moments of family dysfunctions (a “a dramedy”, if you will). This is 40 stands as a decent attempt to genuinely make light of life’s trials and tribulations. And while the film has its fair share of flaws, Apatow delivers his most honest, hilarious and candid take on our regrets, fears and various obscurities that families face as they both lovingly and painfully grow old together.
Five years after the events of Knocked Up, we are intimately invited back into the lives of bickering couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann). Bombarded by financial troubles and squabbling, pre-pubescent pre-teens, Debbie is at her wit’s end at the terrifying prospect of turning forty. Mann is a pleasure to watch on screen- a beyond-talented actress that will make you both laugh and cry. On top of losing her grip on youth, her somewhat self-absorbed husband constantly pushes her buttons, setting Debbie into furious fits and erratic rage that showcase Mann’s ability to blur the lines between comedy and emotional pain.
Rudd is equally spot-on as a husband who constantly fails to give his wife what she so desperately craves: understanding and attention. The chemistry of the two leading stars shine as one of the major highlights of the film. Apatow’s knack for displaying the often-harsh realities of marriage and family life remain second to none in Hollywood. Who else could turn a conversation with your spouse about fantasizing the ways you would kill each other into laughs, or actually admit you wish you had stopped at just one kid
Speaking of children, the comedy gene must be hereditary, as Pete and Debbie’s children Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) steal nearly every scene in which they appear. Whether it’s Maude’s obsession with the TV showLost or the age-gap struggles we see in all siblings, the Apatow girls act way beyond their years. You will absolutely marvel in how sincere and genuine little 8-year old Iris appears on screen.
Rounding out the supporting cast is a “who’s who” of the comedy world, each bringing their own brand of timeless comedy to the mix. Albert Brooks proves his comedic chops remain intact, delivering memorable one-liners as Pete’s loving yet mooch of a father Larry. Debbie’s own absentee-dad Oliver (John Lithgow) offers us a deeper glimpse into her own insecurities and concerns about family dynamics. Megan Fox fits the role as young and attractive Desi, an employee at Debbie’s store and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) serves up one of the most hilarious altercations in the entire film.
Much like Apatow’s three other projects in which he served as both writer and director, the movie at times does seem to wander aimlessly and runs about a half-hour too long. Most will get over these short-comings by pondering Apatow’s take-home message of a husband and wife who hate each other one minute, and love one another the next. Perhaps the man is trying to convey the fact that we all struggle with ourselves, and therefore the people in our lives. But we struggle together with the ones we love and those we have built a life around.
The movie in a way challenges the timeless expression, “youth is wasted on the young.” After everything Debbie and Pete have been through, just maybe the most rewarding years of their lives lie ahead of them, and not behind. After all the fights and doubts and soul searching, all that’s left are the people that were there, in the good times and the bad. Just maybe, life truly begins at 40.
In theaters December 21st, 3 out of 4 Stars. Watch the trailer here.