Film review: Mid-Life Angst Hollywood Style in ‘This is 40’

THIS IS 40 1With no apology to the late F. Scott Fitzgerald for altering his line, those Hollywood folks are different from you and me. Hardly a revelation, I know, but the latest evidence comes in the form of Judd Apatow’s This is 40. I guess that short title looks better on a poster than This is 40 If You Own a Record Label and Clothing Store in Los Angeles.

Apatow took two supporting characters from his 2007 hit Knocked Up and gave them their own storyline for this film. His wife Leslie Mann (Debbie) and their daughters Iris and Maude (Charlotte and Sadie) form three-quarters of the fictional family at the heart of the piece; Paul Rudd (Pete) plays the husband and father completing the set.

THIS IS 40 2We’re led through mid-life crisis-land in LA as both mark (or in her case try not to mark) 40 years on the planet. The label Pete runs is facing eminent financial ruin; the clothing store Debbie operates is missing $12,000, likely purloined by one of the employees (Megan Fox and Charlyne Yi).

Both also have daddy issues: Pete’s father (played by Albert Brooks) is a moocher who’s remarried with young triplets while Debbie’s dad (John Lithgow) has a second family too and sees his daughter about once a decade. Pete and Debbie are not attracted to each other as they once were, they don’t listen to one another and they’re often combative in conversations.

THIS IS 40 3Sounds like time for some marriage counseling, right? Wrong, because this is a movie where somehow these gaping fault lines will close by movie’s end. But even though these two are living in a home that few in this country could afford and zipping around town in a Lexus and BMW, we still like this self-centered pair and their stereotypical kids (the younger one is cute, the older one is angry – because children obviously have no other attributes).

Why? Well, there is a goofy sweetness about the way Mann and Rudd play their characters, despite some blow-a-fuse moments involving a young man and his mother (Melissa McCarthy in a cameo). And Apatow does throw in enough generalized dysfunction and sentiment for us to spot something of ourselves. Even the crude humor and adult language (among the reasons given by the Motion Picture Association of America for mystifyingly slapping an R rating on this picture) deployed from time to time are apparently attempts to make us feel we’re basically watching average Janes and Joes, though much of it does little to move the story along.

THIS IS 40 4At nearly two-and-a-quarter hours This is 40 ambles along at a leisurely clip; it could have told its story in about thirty less minutes, but there are enough laughs and decent acting to keep the film from getting boring. Brooks is the most engaging to watch, although Jason Segel milks his self-absorbed fitness trainer/guru for all he’s worth and Chris O’Dowd adds another bemused everyman to his acting collection as one of Pete’s long-suffering employees.

This is 40 is not an awful film, though it’s still somewhat out of touch. Many will likely wish they had at least some of the problems this privileged couple and their circle deal with in the movie; of course, we all can wish them well, even if their Tinseltown lives bear only passing resemblance to our own.

THIS IS 40 5This is 40 (www.thisis40movie.com) opens today (Dec. 21) in wide release nationally. For locations and show times in the greater Nashville area check the websites of Regal Cinemas (www.regmovies.com), Carmike Cinemas (www.carmike.com) and Malco Theatres (www.malco.com). Rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material, 134 min. Written and directed by Judd Apatow. Starring Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow, Iris Apatow, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi, Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd, Melissa McCarthy and Lena Dunham.

 

*Photos by Suzanne Hanover courtesy Universal Pictures.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).

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