The stench of bitterness overpowers Judd Apatow’s brand of dramedy in the gestating and autobiographically raw This is 40.
You’ve got to hand it to Apatow: the man knows his shtick and he’s stick to it. Overlong, crass, adult themed comedic dramas are his forte and This is 40 delivers on expectations. But four films into his career and it’s a routine that has gotten tired, made even worse that This is 40 comes off as an open wound with obvious real life parallels. That Apatow’s using a funny stick to pick at it doesn’t make it any better.
At the centre of This is 40 are Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), that other couple from Apatow’s immensely popular Knocked Up. As the dreaded 4-0 approaches, the pair prove that older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser. Debbie is hell-bent on changing every facet of their lives in order to obtain a newfound “maturity”. Pete’s dream job as head of an indie record label has seen him fall under considerable financial strain. Parental issues and squabbling daughters add to their woes.
For those not in the know, Mann is Apatow’s wife and the child actresses who play Pete and Debbie’s kids are Apatow’s daughters. Logically one can’t help but conclude that Rudd is essentially playing Apatow himself.
With such knowledge it’s hard not to view This is 40 as anything other than Apatow purging his own bitterness and insecurities, with the stinging stench of anger, regret and depression hard to wash off after the credits role. Call if midlife porn, call it a therapeutic exercise, either way at 2 hours 15 min it’s a draining, long slog of an uncomfortable experience, especially with characters as annoying as these.
Not to say that Rudd and Mann don’t play Pete and Debbie well, yet as written by Apatow this is a pair that can test the temperament of the most patient of people. Mann has always straddled the line between cutesy and annoying (firmly crossing over to the latter here), and that boyish charm that Rudd usually excels in (as evident in I, Love You Man) does not hold up.
Sure, many will applaud Apatow’s approach to marriage, parenthood and getting older as “real” and “uncensored”. Yet “real” does not always make for entertaining, and “uncensored” loses its lustre with a running time this long (40 minutes was needed on the cutting room floor).
As it stand, This is 40 is an endurance test of mistrust, stress and simmering bitterness, layered by the type of crass humour that is unbecoming of Apatow’s age. Hopefully with this middle-age spat out of the way Apatow will now move on, grow up and for the love of God, hire an editor who can say “no!”