Billed as “the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up,” the 2007 comedic hit starring Seth Rogan and Katherine Heigl, Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 seems designed for a very specific demographic. The ridiculously indulgent film (134 minutes in its theatrical form, with an optional 137-minute cut on Blu-ray) stands completely apart from Knocked Up, choosing to focus entirely on a pair of side character from that film. Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are still married, living with their two kids—teenaged Sadie (Maude Apatow) and preteen Charlotte (Iris Apatow), and preparing to celebrate each other’s 40th birthday.
I think one’s enjoyment of This Is 40 will be directly tied to how recently they’ve experienced their own onset of middle-age. More than that, it will also be tied to how similar the viewer’s lifestyle is to this upscale, suburban family. Even though Apatow’s style suggests a schlubbier, low-brow Woody Allen, many will find it hard to swallow that the physically fit Leslie Mann could be so unhappy with her 40-year-old body or that the healthy, energetic Paul Rudd could really be a cupcake-addict with high cholesterol. As we watch this couple’s midlife crisis unfold, their semi-glamorous lifestyle (Pete owns his own record label, Debbie has a fashionable clothing boutique) will be utterly unrelatable to a wide swath of the targeted audience. As a result, it’s no surprise at all that This Is 40 didn’t catch fire at the box office.
It would be easier to take if Apatow had crafted something resembling a story upon which to hang his characters and their so-called troubles. Plagued by low sales, Pete’s company is in free-fall (veteran British rocker Graham Parker plays himself, Pete’s pet signing who isn’t moving records). Debbie’s boutique is hemorrhaging money (Megan Fox plays an employee suspected of theft). The upshot is some belt-tightening at home. The couple talks about selling their house and Pete is faced with not being able to provide for his father, Larry (Albert Brooks), who is busy raising three young test-tube triplets with his new wife. Meanwhile, Debbie’s surgeon father (John Lithgow) barely recognizes his own granddaughters (he also has a newer, younger family of his own).
At over two hours, the thin, episodic narrative collapses as we see Debbie freak out over Pete’s Viagra usage and Debbie hitting clubs with younger, hotter girls to reassure herself of her continuing appeal. We saw all that, by the way, in Knocked Up as she worried about the same stuff five years earlier with her sister Alison (Heigl, who doesn’t cameo and whose character goes entirely unmentioned). As with other midlife crisis comedies (like 1989’s Parenthood or this year’s Grown Ups 2), an unplanned pregnancy strikes. Debbie’s indecision about how to break the news to Pete of their impending third child forms the crux of the drama in This Is 40. It’s not enough.
This Is 40 looks great on Blu-ray, with realistic colors and strong detail. The image is crisp throughout, but maintains a warm, film-like appearance despite having been shot with digital cameras by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael. There isn’t much to write home about with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but there are certainly no problems. Music, including a live performance by Graham Parker and the Rumour, is the real star and it sounds terrific. Dialogue is the dominant element and it remains natural and intelligible throughout.
Fans will revel in the plethora of supplemental materials, including a Judd Apatow commentary, a lengthy (50 minutes) making-of featurette, and nearly an hour of deleted, extended, and alternate scenes. There are numerous shorter featurettes, including pieces focused on the movie’s music, footage of Apatow directing his real-life kids, a look at Albert Brooks, and a cute montage of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog interviewing the cast (Triumph creator Robert Smigel is in the film as Pete’s friend). There’s also a two-part gag reel that demonstrates just how much improvising and goofing off occurs on an Apatow set.
A tighter focus was needed before This Is 40 could’ve even had a shot at being a coherent comedy. As it stands, viewers of a certain age may find enough connection with Apatow’s likeable cast of characters for it to be worth a watch (but I can’t imagine many will want to re-watch).