There may be a formula to Judd Apatow’s films, but when something’s not broke, why fix it? While some people didn’t think Funny People lived up to its title, he’s reverted to what worked with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up in This Is 40.
Calling the film a “semi-sequel” to Knocked Up, there aren’t nearly as many returning characters as you might hope. But those who do come knocking are more than game, and he’s also included some of his new cohorts to come along for the ride this time.
Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) are a little older, but none the wiser than last time. Opening with the world’s worst birthday present, we find out that it’s Debbie’s 40th birthday. Pete thought it would be nice to spice things up by taking a Viagra but Debbie, of course, is just insulted. Their marriage is as rocky as ever with their two daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow), going through their own growing pains. Sadie is dealing with teen angst while Charlotte just wants her sister to play with her. Meanwhile, Pete has left Sony to start his own record label so that he can focus on artists he’s actually passionate about, but Debbie just wants him to sign “a hot 15-year-old” so that they can catch up on their mortgage.
Debbie and Pete are also dealing with their own parental issues as Pete has been feeding his father Larry (Albert Brooks) money to support his test tube triplets and Debbie’s father Oliver is aloof and has a new family after he abandoned her and her mother when she was eight. Debbie also spends time with a personal trainer, Jason (Jason Segel returning), and trying to keep her clothing store afloat even though one of her two employees, Desi (Megan Fox) and Jody (Charlyne Yi), seem to have them $12,000 in the red. Subplots also involve both Debbie and Pete separately threatening Sadie’s schoolmate Joseph (Super 8’s Ryan Lee) and his mother (Melissa McCarthy). And things go from bad to worse when Debbie learns that she’s following in the footsteps of the previous film’s title.
While Knocked Up reveled in arrested development and drug jokes, This is 40 deals more heavily with trying to put the past behind you and acknowledge what’s right in front of you now. Apatow’s heavy doses of truth behind his jokes still ring as true as ever (such as farting in bed) and there still seems to be much-needed improv on set. With the performers he’s gathered together, he couldn’t ask for a crew more prepped. While Albert Brooks was robbed earlier this year for Best Supporting Actor, his chances for a repeat are nigh. The only two problems really, may be that it’s advertising seems to be only aimed at the Knocked Up crowd. Yet, Seth Rogen’s character of Ben is only mentioned once which is only made funnier seeing how Katherine Heigl’s Alison is not, at all, only seen briefly in a family photo hanging in the hallway.
The second issue is that it aims for the big laughs as always, but they seem few and in between with the film moving at a more dramatic pace which seems to throw the tone off. But the biggest surprise may be that Apatow has so far been the only director to effectively use Megan Fox and not make us hate her. She really does have some comedic timing buried beneath that schoolboy-drooling inducing physique. And another nice surprise is how dramatically effective Maude has become as an actress (even if only being in her dad’s movies). So while not everything works for This Is 40, maybe it’s supposed to be that way. After all, I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s how it’s supposed to be when we all turn 40.
Photos courtesy Universal Pictures