Reviews

'This Is 40' Is a Believable Portrait of a Marriage

As Pete and Debbie confront intimacy issues, financial difficulties, and unresolved childhood baggage, they aren't necessarily people with whom you want to spend two hours.


This Is 40

Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jason Segal, Megan Fox, Robert Smigel
Rated: R
Studio: Universal Pictures
Year: 2012
US date: 2012-12-21 (General release)
UK date: 2013-02-14 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Expectations run high for any movie written and directed by Judd Apatow. Unfortunately, his latest, This Is 40, falls a bit short of the standard set by 40 Year-Old Virgin. Billed as a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up, it shifts the focus from Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s characters to married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann). The problem is that they had a relatively complete arc in the previous movie that was both funny and poignant, their potent cocktail of anger and despair serving as a perfect foil to the fumbling leads in the original.

In This Is 40, their story is less complete, more a series of vignettes. In fact, such imperfection is more true to life than most comedies about relationships, and Apatow deserves credit for painting a believable portrait of how couples struggle to maintain their individual identities in the face of job, family, and marital responsibilities. But as Pete and Debbie confront intimacy issues, financial difficulties, and unresolved childhood baggage, they aren't necessarily people with whom you want to spend two hours. Rather, they're the couple you would have long ago removed from your holiday party invite list.

All of this might have worked better if Apatow had found a consistent tone for the film. It is clear that he wants you to like these characters: this is not a War of the Roses. Much of the movie offers Apatow’s trademark combination of raunchy surprise and sweet absurdity. Both Pete and Debbie are wickedly funny and disarmingly charming, both apart and together. But while such moments almost redeem the movie, they don't quite.

At times, it feels like multiple takes on the same concept were shot and then accidentally all included in the movie anyway. It is amusing once that Pete feels like he has so little time to himself that he retreats to the toilet for extended periods just to be able to play Scrabble on the iPad. But that joke gets repeated at least twice here. Also overplayed -- four times -- is the joke where Pete and Debbie try and fail to have sex. The funniest version is the first one, when what looks like a very successful encounter in the shower devolves into a fight about whether or not Pete's decision to use Viagra is a betrayal. The other almost-sex scenes are too here-we-go-again to be more than mildly entertaining.

While the repetition seems sloppy rather than purposeful, it might also be a sign of Apatow's premise, that there are no easy Hollywood answers to a troubled marriage, no direct path that leads from problem to low point to triumph. The story here is more like a sine curve, alternating regularly from devastating argument to reluctant reconciliation, back to devastating argument over and over and over. It's a pattern that seems realistic, but it is also as exhausting for the audience as it is for Pete and Debbie’s children (played on screen by Apatow and Mann’s real-life kids, Maude and Iris).

That exhaustion might leave you feeling dissatisfied, even fondly remembering Pete and Debbie's best movie moment, which takes place in Knocked Up, when she thinks he's cheating on her and discovers that he has been sneaking off to play fantasy sports with his friends. Nothing in This Is 40 hits the mark the same way.

It may be that This Is 40 is a victim of Apatow’s own success. This is a man with both Bridesmaids and Girls (which could be subtitled "This Is 20") among his recent producing credits. It may be that when he takes on multiple roles, say, writer and director and producer, he doesn't have anyone to provide him with the same tough love he provides others. Case in point: This Is 40 is over two hours long for no apparent reason. That’s a director’s cut, not a producer’s cut, and it leads to a sputtering conclusion. In real life, sometimes relationships reach a détente instead of a resolution. But that’s not where Apatow wants to end up with his fans.

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

Lara Hope & The Ark-Tones

Love You To Life

Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11
Amazon
iTunes

Lara Hope and her band of roots rockin' country and rockabilly rabble rousers in the Ark-Tones have been the not so best kept secret of the Hudson Valley, New York music scene for awhile now.

Keep reading... Show less
8

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image