There is no simple answer to what it means to be 40, or to age in general for that matter. So it’s appropriate that the frank and funny This Is 40 is an utterly random comedy about “issues” that explode all at once.
To fit something as complicated as a two-hand mid-life crisis into a three-act template would be trite. Apatow admits that the script is largely a series of embarrassing anecdotes and incidents from his life and others, compiled over years.
The thread to this “sort of sequel” to Knocked Up involves that movie’s side characters of Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), who always were surrogates for Apatow and his real-life wife Mann, to the extent that the couple’s real-life daughters did and do play Pete and Debbie’s daughters onscreen. As it happens, they are both about to turn 40 here.
(The only other Knocked Up characters, it appears, are Charlene Yi’s character of Jodi, now a spacy retail clerk, and Jason Segel’s Jason, who’s now a personal trainer).
The tone of the movie is set with an opening argument, over Pete’s use of Viagra – which Debbie interprets as a comment on her unattractiveness. The dialogue is sharp, and it is the first of many loud exchanges over a perceived loss of intimacy (Pete likes to hide from his family in the bathroom, playing Scrabble on his iPad while sitting on the toilet. Insisting he’s there for real, Debbie asks “Who takes a half-hour to take a crap?” - “John Goodman,” Pete responds).
This leads to the revelation of a dizzying array of side problems. Pete is a career record exec, an aging hipster who’s started his own label and is betting everything on a reunion of Graham Parker & the Rumour (if you said ‘Who?’ you may be too young for this movie). Debbie is running a struggling boutique, and suspects she’s being robbed by one of her two employees (Yi and Megan Fox).
There are parents. Pete’s dad (Albert Brooks) has become a new dad himself, and his sponging off his son to feed a second family, while’s Debbie’s dad (John Lithgow) is estranged and has a second family of his own.
There are the Wi-Fi’ed kids – including a pubescent daughter who may be being harassed by a boy online, prompting Debbie to messily stick her nose into tween politics.
It all contributes to a typically long two-hour-plus Apatow film (with one big family-wide, last-act domestic meltdown).
As one who’s seen 40 come and go, I can attest that the movie never rings a false note (though hiding in the bathroom is an indication of a pressing need for an off-limits “man-cave” that most guys would have addressed years earlier). The characters’ arc is ultimately sweet and self-aware.
Now how about telling us what happened to Ben (Seth Rogen) and Alison (Katherine Heigl)?