With “This is 40,” Judd Apatow presents his R-rated version of “Modern Family.” But a preponderance of four-letter words and naked breasts can’t begin to trump TV’s best sitcom.
With “This is 40,” Judd Apatow presents his R-rated version of “Modern Family.” But a preponderance of four-letter words and naked breasts can’t begin to trump TV’s best sitcom. Still, this is Apatow, the guy who gave us “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” And as frustrating as “This is 40” can be, it’s not without its considerable pleasures, namely Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd.
In reprising their roles as Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s best buds from “Knocked Up,” Mann and Rudd prove infinitely worthy of moving to the fore for a quasi-sequel about the trials and tribulations of an affluent Brentwood couple negotiating their way through stagnant sex, moody offspring and immature fathers who’ve turned their attention from their grown children to focus on the new families they’ve started with young trophy wives. Oh, yeah, both Rudd’s Pete and Mann’s Debbie are also independently dealing with entrepreneurial endeavors that are bleeding cash so badly neither has the courage to make the other privy to the direness of their financial straits.
To hear Apatow tell it, Pete and Debbie are a microcosm of the modern American family. Well, they are if you’re as handsome as Rudd and as gorgeous Mann, and live in one of LA.’s swankiest neighborhoods, where backyard pools, personal trainers and snazzy BMWs are the modest spoils of the not-quite stinking rich. If you can identify, you’ll likely enjoy the movie far more than moviegoers whose waistlines have expanded at the same rate their bank accounts have shrunk. You know, like the “average” 40-year-old.
That’s just the cusp of the problems with Apatow’s script, which also overindulges in pop-cultural references (“Lost,” Livestrong, “The Office,” Viagra) and a handful of minor supporting characters so shrill at times, they almost take the form of cartoon critters. Yet, Apatow seldom fails to make you laugh or fight a tear. His semi-autobiographical film is overstuffed and overblown, but beneath all the exhibition – and exhibitionists – is a host of emotional truths about marriage and family that pertain to everyone, no matter your income bracket. When Apatow sticks to that, “This is 40” can be a real charmer. But he consistently undermines it with stupid, scatological humor that seems to exist only to prove that the writer-director hasn’t gone soft and gooey in his advancing middle age.
He also seems bound and determined to show off what a hot wife he has in Mann, who is called upon to bare her breasts at regular intervals. Not that I’m complaining. But it seems gratuitous, as does the casting of his and Mann’s daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow, as Pete and Debbie’s preteen kids. The elder Apatow also isn’t above name dropping his love for obscure rock acts like The Replacements, Ryan Adams, Frank Black, Alice in Chains and Graham Parker, the latter stuck with the thankless job of spoofing his past-his-prime status by playing the one and only artist on Pete’s upstart independent record label. Pete’s profession also enables Apatow to slip in cameos by Adams and Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong. OK, we get it, you’ve got a lot of rock greats for pals. So what?
Far more impressive are his comedy friends. A list that includes legends like John Lithgow and Albert Brooks as Debbie and Pete’s fathers, Lena Dunham and Chris O’Dowd as Pete’s employees at his record label, Megan Fox and Charlyne Yi as Debbie’s potentially felonious salesgirls at her dress boutique, Jason Segel as Debbie’s amorous trainer, and Annie Mumolo (co-writer of “Bridesmaids”) and Robert Smigel (voice of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog) as Pete and Debbie’s know-it-all best buddies. All get to share in eliciting big yuks, but the two standouts are Fox, doing the best work of her checkered career, and “Bridesmaids” scene-stealer Melissa McCarthy, who once again walks away with a movie even though she appears in but two scenes. But what scenes they are, especially the film’s crowning moment when she goes off on an obscenity-filled tirade against Pete, Debbie and their school’s vice principal. It’s guaranteed to leave you drenched in tears of laughter.
But along with the jokes, Apatow displays an intense desire to move into James L. Brooks territory, modeling his movie – intentionally or not – on the latter’s Brentwood family saga, “Spanglish.” He even goes so far as to cast Lithgow, a veteran of Brooks’ “Terms of Endearment,” as Debbie’s wealthy, emotionally distant dad, and Albert Brooks, a veteran of the filmmaker’s “Broadcast News,” as Pete’s money-mooching pops, struggling mightily to support a brood of 5-year-old triplets. While it’s an admirable attempt, Apatow clearly is no James L. Brooks when it comes to blending humor and pathos. Heck, after “Spanglish” and “How Do You Know” (also starring Rudd), even Brooks is struggling to be Brooks. But Apatow has a long way to go to match Brooks in his prime. At least “This is 40” is a step in the right direction, but for Apatow to get to the point where Oscar voters start taking notice, he needs to start acting more like he’s 40, not 14.
THIS IS 40 (R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug use.) Cast includes Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, John Lithgow, Albert Brooks and Megan Fox. Written and directed by Judd Apatow. Grade: B-