Entertainment » Movies

This Is 40

by Kevin Taft
Contributor
Wednesday Dec 19, 2012
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Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd
Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd  

Judd Apatow has a penchant for writing lewd but truthful comedies. From "The 40 Year Old Virgin" to "Knocked Up" to "Funny People," love him or not, there is a human perception there that rings true even when decorated with hundreds of sex jokes. His latest is called "This Is 40," which is a "sort-of" sequel to "Knocked Up" in that Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) from that film are now turning 40 and Apatow has decided to check in on them.

From the moment the movie begins, we know we’re in Apatow territory. The grunts and moans of morning sex emanate from Pete and Debbie’s shower where the two are going at it to celebrate Debbie’s 40th birthday. (She will insist she’s not 40 again and again, as if this is supposed to be a telling psychological revelation of avoidance.) But within about 30 seconds, Debbie is suddenly upset and storms naked out of the shower.

Why? Because husband Pete has used Viagra to give her an extra special birthday "gift." This, of course, angers Debbie because she wonders why he "needs" Viagra to have sex with her. "Am I not pretty???" she wails. It doesn’t matter that he logically explains why. It just matters that Debbie is upset. And throughout the movie, she will be upset a lot. This is what the movie is: Pete is a man-child. Debbie is a shrill nag. After ten minutes of this, I wanted to change the channel; except I couldn’t because I was trapped in a movie theater. And after over two hours of this, I was crawling out of my skin.


This is the most annoying, ingratiating, and interminable film I think I’ve seen in a decade. Well, wait, "Mamma Mia" was pretty unwatchable, but I’d see that over this if I had to choose between them. Nothing about "This Is 40" is original or insightful. These characters whine and complain their upper middle class white people problems and constantly analyze each other as if they are both psychologists. Nothing is under the surface. Nothing is hidden and kept inside until the big blow out. No. These two people incessantly talk, complain, and scream about their problems ad nauseum until you just want them both to shut the F-up.

Pete and Debbie also have two kids - girls named Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) played by Judd and Leslie’s kids. This is just sort of eye rolling, despite the fact that both Maude and Iris are adorable and hilarious. Megan Fox shows up as the sexy employee of Debbie’s clothing store and Chris O’Dowd ("Bridesmaids") plays Pete’s record-label right-hand man. These businesses are important because as luck would have it (or boring plot devices would go) not only is Pete’s label doing poorly, but also someone at Debbie’s store (there are only two employees) has stolen $12,000. This is stated as though it’s a curiosity, however, not the fact that it’s TWELVE THOUSAND DOLLARS!! These are rich people with rich people problems. The fact that Pete has also loaned $80,000 to his father over the course of a few years is also telling. So when Pete cries in his car about their money problems, which (surprise, surprise) he keeps from Debbie, he does so in his BMW on the way home to their ginormous house. Poor Pete. Poor Debbie.

Meanwhile, Debbie continues to complain about every single thing that Pete does... every single thing. And then there is the scene in which she bullies a middle-school kid to tears for putting her daughter on a "Not Hot" list at school.


What is supposed to be hilarious is actually so mean-spirited and hurtful it was shocking that it was played for laughs. Worse still is when the mother of that boy (played by the always awesome Melissa McCarthy) confronts Pete about his wife’s behavior; he defends her by calling her crude names in front of her son. Ultimately, Pete, Debbie, and this mother end up in the principal’s office where they make McCarthy’s character go crazy. They ultimately walk out of the office after totally acting like assholes. It’s not funny. It’s gross.

The rest of the movie continues to be about Pete and Debbie fighting about their relationship, awkwardly making up with some "I love you," "I love you, too’s;" then ten minutes later they are in another fight. In between, personal reflections and examinations about their pasts and present are brought up in front of other people and then analyzed to death. The problem is not just that these conversations don’t happen in the real world, but that it’s all just so damn hateful.

"This Is 40" is a joyless movie filled with unlikeable characters and a penchant for childish sexual humor. When the leads end up eating pot cookies, we can do nothing but roll our eyes and wonder if we’re watching a comedy from the 90’s. Apatow used to be insightful about current relationships, but here he seems grossly out of touch. Hardly anyone can relate to these people and when those people do nonsensical things, it just makes it even worse. Why is Debbie taking WiFi away from her oldest daughter, then telling her to go outside and make a fort instead of chatting online? Is this the 1950s? No mother her age would ever suggest that. And even if "forts" were a thing kids might be into, a fourteen-year old girl is certainly not going to be interested in that. It’s just lazy writing. And again, it’s out of touch.

But how can we relate when rich white people are crying about having to downsize? Poor babies. Ugh.

I love Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd and I generally like Apatow. That’s why "This Is 40" is such a disappointment. For me to hate all of them before the opening credits are finished, well, that’s pretty bad. But it was just a sign of things to come, because this, my friends, is one of the most unpleasant movies of the year.


Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to ’Star Wars’ and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg. He can be seen in the flesh on the weekly PBS movie review series "Just Seen It."

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