“Probably my favorite aspect of This is 40, by far, was the soundtrack. This is appropriate since Pete runs his own label. They include songs by Val Halen, Fiona Apple, Chicago, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime, Alice in Chains, Norah Jones, and Paul Simon”
This is 40, Movie Review…
This Holiday season, This is 40, a quasi-sequel to Knocked Up centering around the mid-life crisis of Debbie and Pete, a Los Angeles couple I barely even remember from the original film, is really not what I was looking forward to seeing. Most movie going folks already know what they’re in for when they go to a Judd Apatow feature: self-servicing existential personal views on aging and life in general that would make James L. Brooks roll his eyes, convenient, feel-good endings that seemingly come out of nowhere after being dragged up through a web of vulgar jokes that do not illuminate the general theme, a running time that’s usually at least a half an hour too long, a celebration of adolescence that gives way to the supposed misery of middle age, brightened cinematography that suggests the DP was the real director of the film, and too many surveillance-like scenes that feel like the actors wrote their own dialogue and didn’t know when to stop. For all of its narrative faults, Knocked Up did manage to convey a poignant feeling of parenthood in the 21st century, even if the story was wildly unrealistic and too self-serving to take seriously. I must also note that this is his second feature with the number 40 in the title in less than a decade. Apparently, he must have a grudge with that age, or really love it with a passion. I cannot decide which.
This time: it gets even more personal. Mr. Apatow decided to cast his wife, Leslie Mann, and daughters, Iris and Maude, along with his doppelganger, Paul Rudd, as a family unit. This probably worked best when they were just supporting characters. Miss Mann has held her own as a supporting actor in comedies that her husband had nothing to do with over the years, like She’s the One and George of the Jungle, but a leading lady she really isn’t. She has good comic timing, but lacks the charisma, presence, physicality, and even voice of a lead. A lot of people have chastised a great natural actor like Helena Bonham Carter for basically sleeping her way into roles her partner directs. Why Miss Mann hasn’t received the same flak is beyond me, but it might start soon after this film hits on Christmas. His daughters are more sympathetic, but don’t fare much better. Paul Rudd is his usual reliable self in a role that doesn’t require much of a stretch for him. There are also amusing supporting roles for Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy, Charlyne Yi, Jason Segal, Lena Dunham, Robert Smigel, John Lithgow, Megan Fox (in a rare appropriately cast role) to indulge in for a scene or two.
The overdrawn story chronicles three weeks (and feels like every second of it) of an aging, neurotic couple who are floundering in their professional and financial lives, but yearn to dig themselves out of their ennui into being a “normal” American family. This includes connecting with absent parents, selling their expensive home, keeping their businesses afloat, and going on romantic getaways. His indie record label is stumbling b/c he won’t sell out to mainstream tastes, while she has a shoplifting employee. Why any of this is considered interesting enough to fill a two-hour plus comedy has me scratching my head. While being very funny at times, I just didn’t find either one of these lead characters to be very sympathetic or really that relatable. Their neuroses only highlight their bulging egos, while their short-sided short-tempers render them kind of impish. Their marriage never really feels in peril. The humor they indulge in undermines any attempt at dramatic progression they make. The fact that this couple is clinging on to their rather lavish materialistic LA lifestyle in spite of actual economic turmoil doesn’t help matters much either. In fact, they seem totally oblivious to what that actually is. The strange product placement of the television series Lost feels like just that. And the fact that they make the spoiler-alert worthy twist of the series finale into an actual plot point is a little belligerent, even for a personal film like this.
This maybe the first feature from Mr. Apatow that feels like he is isn’t just hiding behind the narrative, like Funny People and Knocked Up did, his psyche is the narrative; front and center. I find it refreshing that he is able to make mainstream comedies in the studio system that reflect as much personal indulgence and idiosyncrasies as indie films have trouble doing these days. He is one of the true ubiquitous producers working today whose films that he only produces reflect his style almost as much as the ones he directs do. It feels like with every new feature, he really reaches a new level of personal clarity that way only a true auteur aspires to and only rarely achieves. He uses the relatively same actors in every film the way painters re-use the same colors and themes over and over again. The creeks are beginning to show in the increasingly-desperate ad-libbing, but they never feel insincere enough to not want to go with. Like always in an Apatow production, they are distracting, self-indulgent, schizophrenic in tone, and call attention to themselves, but always entertain.
Probably my favorite aspect of the film by far was the soundtrack. This is appropriate since Pete runs his own label. They include songs by Val Halen, Fiona Apple, Chicago, Stone Temple Pilots, Sublime, Alice in Chains, Norah Jones, and Paul Simon. Also included are scores from Lost and Les Miserables, which is rather strange cross-promotion. This makes me wonder if Mr. Apatow is trying to steal this style away from Cameron Crowe for good, or inching his way to directing his own life-affirming musical. This casting of not one, but two real famous musicians as themselves kind of suggest the latter, but don’t really add much to any sort of dramatic tension there could have been had Mr. Apatow, oh, I don’t know, had any in mind in the first place.
In short, has its moments of clarity and poignancy, but Mr. Apatow’s drawn-out style is also starting to show its age.
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