One of my favorite comedies of all time is The 40-Year-Old Virgin. I have had strong disagreements with wiser people than I about the movie, but I always thought that it had a beautiful message about the connection between love and sexuality underneath all of the raunchy gags. Ever since that film, I've sought out anything written or directed by Judd Apatow and unfortunately been mostly disappointed.
This is 40 is no exception.
The premise is already a bit odd in that he builds a whole movie around the supporting cast of his most financially successful movie: Knocked Up. The story takes place on the week that married couple Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) both turn 40. Debbie is depressed over getting older and wants to take more control over their lives so they can maximize the experience. Pete is struggling with his failing music label and keeps his financial troubles from Debbie. All the while they are raising a pubescent daughter and her younger sister.
I would tell you more about the plot, but that's it. The biggest drawback of the film is that there is no plot. The movie is a series of events that reflect on being a middle-aged married couple. There is no connection really, from scene to scene, so the plot kind of meanders and then just sort of stops. You will also be scratching your head at the thinking of the characters based on the scenes before. After learning that he may have to sell his house because of his financial mess, Pete takes Debbie to a lavish resort for a whole day and night where they live high off the hog. Is he in denial? Does he not really understand his money problems? We don't know because the movie never addresses it.
Another problem is that it is way too long. At 2-hours 15-minutes, Apatow drags a lot of the spontaneity out of the film. He spends entirely too much time on subplots that go nowhere. Megan Fox, for example, should have had her part completely cut from the film. She adds nothing to the main story and he character has no arc.
Therein lies another problem with the movie: character development. The characters are so self-involved and self-centered that it becomes difficult to relate to them. Debbie often comes off as a cloying nag and Pete is a man-child who cannot grow up. They toss around blame like a ping-pong ball. Pete's dad (Albert Brooks) is a lazy mooch who still comes off as self-important.
At one point Debbie yells at a classmate of her daughter's and later Pete yells at that child's mother (cameo by Melissa McCarthy). The 3 adults are called to the principal's office and it was this scene that made clear that Debbie and Pete are not good people. They deny their bad behavior and they accuse McCarthy's character of lying. This is meant to be funny, but I could no longer root for their selfishness. The characters do some growing, but not a lot. They fight, make-up, fight, make-up. I think Apatow is trying to reflect how this occurs in real life, but I don't pay my $10.50 to look in a mirror. I want some growth and resolution.
The film does have it's positive elements. Some of the jokes are very funny. Anyone who has been married for a while or is around the age of the main characters will find some humorous similarities to their own life. And as long as the movie keeps you laughing, it sails. Leslie Mann was also fantastic in her role as Debbie. She was a great mix of desperation, patience, and insanity.
This is 40, also has an overall positive view of marriage. Even in the midst of all of the fighting and name-calling and nagging and lying, there is still a strong sense of commitment that is bigger than the problems they face.
That is a good message that deserves to be in a better movie.
3 out of 5 stars