I finally saw last year’s Judd Apatow film THIS IS 40 last week, and I thought it was absolutely terrible. Not just distinctly lacking in comedy, but a smug, nasty and tortuously overlong movie.
Let me explain. I like Judd Apatow; he’s a very talented man. I love THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP – not only are they both hilarious, but they’re sweet and heartfelt, and the characters are compelling. This Is 40 was marketed as “the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up”, and we do indeed continue to follow the lives of two of the supporting characters from Knocked Up – married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann). The problem is that in their own film, when you are forced to spend over 2 hours in their company, you come to realise that Pete and Debbie are a pair of horrible human beings.
Not that film protagonists have to be likeable – the comedy genre is packed full of nasty, but hilarious characters (Withnail, Uncle Rico, Ron Burgundy, anyone played by Groucho Marx). Debbie and Paul are horrible, but not horrible enough to be funny – they’re shallow and selfish and greedy, and they fight a lot, but their antics don’t promote many chuckles. Maybe you have to be (unhappily) married to get it, but I don’t find two hours of bickering, breakups and hard-learned life-lessons (sometimes learned multiple times) quality material for comedy or drama.
The amount of time Debbie and Paul spend complaining about the horrible state of their lives, all while residing in a lovely, and ridiculously huge house and working their dream jobs smacks of Apatow being more than a little out of touch with the experiences of the common man. It is Apatow here that I think is the real issue. Unlike his previous features, this film feels personal, almost autobiographical. It stars his real-life wife and his real-life daughters, and they all live the kind of life very few people outside showbiz will have any experience of. You know how hard it can be when your record label isn’t bringing in the numbers? No? Of course you don’t! Clearly, the family aren’t happy – there’s marital problems, professional problems, financial problems – so why do they still live in that massive house?
Rudd and Mann play a nasty pair. They’re egotistic and insecure, petty, bitter and spoilt. They hurl abuse at each other, their friends, family and employees all because they’re now middle-aged and might have to tighten their belts a bit. In the grand scheme of things, none of their issues with each other, and with the world, actually matter!
I didn’t find it particularly funny, either. I know comedy is subjective, but this film pales in comparison with any of Apatow’s previous efforts. The best joke comes from the criminally underused Chris O’Dowd, playing one of Paul’s record label colleagues, who debates Keith Richards’ possible immortality.
The film lacks heart, too. You don’t get any sense the characters have been on an emotional journey of any sort until the final 20 minutes of the 2 hour+ film. This segment also features the meeting of Paul and Debbie’s estranged fathers (Albert Brooks and John Lithgow respectively) who interestingly are both men in their sixties who have started life again with new partners, and new children. Why couldn’t we have a whole film following either of these two? I’ve rarely, if ever, seen that story on film. Maybe we can have “the sort-of-sequel to the sort-of-sequel to Knocked Up next.
This Is 40 is out-of-touch, unlikeable, unfunny and wasteful of the talent of those involved. Apatow is better than this, and he knows it. SSP