Published on December 21st, 2012 | by Padraic Coffey0
This is 40 (2012)
Given the number of films which have bore his fingerprints as producer in recent years, it is surprising on reflection just how few films Judd Apatow has directed himself. This is 40 marks his mere fourth effort behind the camera (though his nineteenth production since 2005 debut The 40 Year Old Virgin) and his first venture into sequel territory, reprising characters from his breakout hit Knocked Up. Sadly, as the poster to This is 40attests, this is more a quasi-follow up than actual continuation of its predecessor’s storyline. Those expecting a repeat of the mismatched chemistry between Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl will be disappointed, as neither – rather implausibly – intrudes at any stage. This may have to do with Rogen’s subsequent increase in status, and accompanying salary, sinceKnocked Up, or the fact that Heigl effectively bit the hand that feeds her by deeming the film ‘sexist’. As a result, This is 40 focuses on periphery characters from Knocked Up, Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd), approaching their respective 40th birthdays, as well as children Sadie and Charlotte (played by Apatow and Mann’s two daughters, Maude and Iris.)
Plot has never been Apatow’s strongest suit, and This is 40 is possibly his most episodic and aimless film to date. This is not to imply that there aren’t plenty of laughs to be had in the improvisational-heavy exchanges between characters (Melissa McCarthy, Oscar-nominated for her role in the Apatow-produced Bridesmaids, is given free reign in an extended closing credits sequence). Nonetheless, This is 40 suffers by comparison with Apatow’s previous films. Indeed, Heigl’s complaint that Knocked Up portrayed women as “shrews… [who are] humourless and uptight” carries even more weight in this film. The presence of Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann, as well as their children, can’t help but feel somewhat of an indulgence – it was the presence of all three that almost derailed Apatow’s last film, the near-masterpiece Funny People.
The addition of new characters is almost as distracting as the absence of both Rogen and Heigl. Albert Brooks is deliberately dislikeable as Rudd’s selfish father, relying on handouts and coasting on a wave of victimhood when challenged on his behaviour. John Lithgow, as Debbie’s estranged ‘biological’ father, represents a far more interesting subplot than any of the central couple’s unsympathetic financial woes, yet even that peters out without a satisfying conclusion. Indeed, the climax of the film, with Rudd attempting to flee his troubles by cycling furiously, is effectively borrowed from the climax of The 40 Year Old Virgin. This is 40 is not a bad film, but it is an indulgent one, replete with the cameos that ruffled so many viewers in Funny People (surely their presence there was more justifiable?). Beautifully subtle moments, such as Mann and Rudd leaving a parent-teacher meeting in separate cars, are not frequent enough to merit its lofty running length (130 minutes). Apatow is likely to remain on producing duty for his next several films, but he may want to rethink casting his entire immediate family before sitting in the director’s chair again.