This is 40

This is 40Synopsis: Five years after writer/director Judd Apatow introduced us to Pete and Debbie in Knocked Up, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their roles as a husband and wife both approaching a milestone meltdown in This Is 40, an unfiltered, comedic look inside the life of an American family.

After years of marriage, Pete lives in a house of all females: wife Debbie and their two daughters, eight-year-old Charlotte (Iris Apatow) and 13-year-old Sadie (Maude Apatow). As he struggles to keep his record label afloat, he and Debbie must figure out how to forgive, forget and enjoy the rest of their lives…before they kill each other.

In his fourth directorial outing, Apatow’s new comedy captures what it takes for one family to flourish in the middle of a lifetime together.

What emerges is a deeply honest portrait of the challenges and rewards of marriage and parenthood in the modern age. Through the filmmaker’s unblinking lens, we follow one couple’s three-week navigation of sex and romance, career triumphs and financial hardships, aging parents and maturing children.

The all-star cast portraying the family and friends, colleagues and neighbors represents an ensemble of actors from many of Apatow’s previous projects, as well as new comedy players who have been welcomed into the fold. They include John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Chris O’Dowd, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, Graham Parker, Lena Dunham, Annie Mumolo, Robert Smigel, Charlyne Yi, Lisa Darr and Albert Brooks.

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This is 40 8.0

eyelights: John Lithgow. Albert Brooks. the average-looking cast.
eyesores: its female body image issues.

Pete: “Best birthday EVER!!!”

40? Sounds like a big deal, doesn’t it? That’s a lot of years under one’s aging belt. I remember a friend who was super anxious at the idea of hitting the big three-oh. Man… I can’t even begin to imagine how she feels about this particular landmark.

Personally, I couldn’t care less. The moment my birthday is wrapped up I will likely forget my age all over again. It’s just not something I base my choices around. Age is in one’s head, really: I’ve met mature teenagers and immature adults, so what does that tell you?

But it’s an interesting number nonetheless. For some it means middle age (“Holy smokes! I’m halfway done with my life!”). For others it means identity crisis (“What am I doing with my life? This is not what I had planned!”). For many, though, it’s simply a time for looking back, to reminisce and/or assess.

For Debbie, Pete’s spouse, and mother of two daughters, forty is spelled D-R-E-A-D. She is in total denial that she has hit the big four-oh, and frequently lies about her age. She also has arguments with Pete about things that remind her that they’re getting older. This is not going to be pretty.

Pete, meanwhile, doesn’t seem too worried about it even though it looms on the horizon – his birthday is coming fast and preparations for the party are already under way. However, between parenting and his professional problems, it’s hardly surprising that middle age isn’t on his mind.

Between the two of them, various problems and conflicts arise – as does much hilarity, as one might expect from a Judd Apatow film. ‘This is 40’ is a spin-off of his massively successful ‘Knocked Up‘, and it takes a similar tack, mixing real-world drama with the awkwardness of every day life to tickle one’s funny bone.

‘This is 40’ doesn’t see the return of Knocked Up’s Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, though – not even in cameos. Frankly, I’m especially grateful that it follows Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann instead: I find Rogen kind of annoying and Heigl is kind of bland. Mann, Apatow’s partner, has a much more interesting personality and Rudd is naturally likeable, and less goofy.

While I couldn’t relate to the couple’s life and aspirations, I understood where they were coming from – they are archetypes for so many North Americans, trying to keep their primary relationship strong , raise a family, strike a balance between their professional and personal lives, and dodge the many curveballs that life inevitably lobs at them.

I found that it was in these moments that the humour shone through best, because Apatow highlighted the absurdities and exaggerated (only mildly) some of the irritants that one might encounter in adulthood. I suspect that it’s a film that would mostly appeal to people who are thirty and older, as there are few people who would connect with Pete and Debbie’s lives.

And that’s probably the key weakness of the film, aside from its length (which some might find unwieldy). While some of us will see parallels in our own lives or those of the people around us, it may not work for all audiences, whether due to age or cultural background. In my estimation, it probably also has too much of a Caucasian, American-centric sensibility to be fully relatable overseas – at our core, we all have similar hopes and dreams, but the means by which we try to make them reality are very different.

On the flip side, ‘This is 40’ is propped up by a terrific cast.

Rudd and Mann are good enough at balancing realistic and comic performances in one go. I’ve seen them play broader, for sure, but they were good at reeling it in adequately. At no point did I forget that they were actors (they’re probably both too good-looking for that, anyway!), but I also found that they inhabited their characters suitably enough that it worked for me.

I also liked the rest of the secondary cast, which was filled with a bevy of real-looking people, some dumpy, some balding, all of them looking middle-aged and none of them Hollywood red carpet types. Not only did they look real, they felt real. I have to give kudos to Apatow for going that route, instead of filling the screen with plastic people that no grounded human being can possible relate to.

The only exception to the rule, of course, was Megan Fox, as one of Debbie’s store clerks. She obviously doesn’t fit the bill of the average type, even though I feel that she’s lost a lot of her original appeal over the years. I was actually quite surprised by her performance, though: it wasn’t outstanding, but it was actually pretty good – she was certainly more capable than you’d naturally want to give her credit for.

(As a side-note I take exception to Debbie’s cooing over Fox’ “perfect body”. Fox is actually quite skinny, with barely any hips to speak of. That Apatow -through Mann- would perpetuate this type of body image was disturbing to me. It blows my mind that Leslie Mann is extremely skinny and yet her character still envies another person’s body. Welcome to body dysmorphia, ladies and gentlemen!)

The two stand outs for me, though, were John Lithgow and Albert Brooks, as Debbie and Pete’s fathers, respectively.

While neither did anything that they haven’t done before, I can’t even imagine anyone more perfect for these parts than these two were: Brooks plays a mooching loser who is a nice guy, but who can be veritably grating over time, and Lithgow plays an uptight, emotionally repressed man who is all business, no heart. These guys stole every single scene that they were in, even though their characters were more subtle than outlandish.

But that makes sense. Let’s face it: our lives aren’t interesting because we do outrageous things – although that can pepper the pot. They’re mostly interesting due to the people who populate them. It’s those daily interactions with the people in our lives that make them worth all the pains. We may not think that our lives are especially interesting, and we may long to be someone else, someone who seems to lead a more exciting life, but there are plenty of moments and nuances that make our lives stand out from the rest.

I firmly believe that any of our lives could be dramatic or funny, if highlighted in the right way. If one were to make a reel of all the funniest moments or all the most poignant moments and try to cobble a cohesive story out of all of these, I’m sure that most of us would have a fascinating film to watch. I think that we simply lose sight of these things as we wade through the everyday sludge; our frailties and our virtues are there, in and each and every one of us, and they can be quite the sight.

‘This is 40’ provides us with a glimpse into the lives of Debbie and Pete, as they face the fact that they are likely halfway down that long and winding road. Some people might find this especially dull, given that it’s not focused on crazy antics in the way that films like ‘Old School’ does, but I found it quite entertaining – I found echoes of my own life and of many others in these middle age archetypes, and I also found them fairly relatable and worth knowing in their own right.

As I tiptoe down that road myself, wondering what my own highlight reel would look like, I can’t help but find comfort in knowing that most of us are just going about it the best we can, unprepared for life, let alone the responsibilities of adulthood. And as I look at all the mistakes I’ve made, the disappointments I’ve had, the dramas I’ve survived, and the many that are likely coming down the road, I also know that there have been successes, many dreams fulfilled, moments of peace and bliss – and that I can look forward to many more of those too.

Well, what do you know… I guess this is 40.

Date of viewing: January 4, 2013

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