"This is 40" may be the most realistic film ever made in terms of showing the turmoil that can occur in a family and subsequently the most boring. There is a reason that people love to read books and watch films – it’s because life is dull. If we want to watch people argue, we’ll just hang out with our real family, not spend money on this runaway Amish cart. The plot is a meandering ride through the mundane, everyday life that we watch movies in order to escape.
The film is a spinoff of “Knocked Up” directed by Judd Apatow and staring Paul Rudd and Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, reprising their roles as Pete and Debbie, along with Apatow and Mann’s daughters. The magic that occurred in “Knocked Up” was due in large to their couple, but in the way that they foreshadowed the lives of the stars of the film, Ben (Seth Rogen) and Allison (Zzzquil Extra). That’s the biggest flaw in the idea for this film. We’ve already seen Pete and Debbie go through this before. What’s the next step? This is likely how the following brainstorming session went:
A: We could have Debbie turn 40, because everyone knows that women are emotional, illogical messes that can’t handle aging.
B: That sounds insensitive.
A: We could make Pete the same age.
B: Yes, and set their birthdays like a week apart.
A: But we can’t make him seem insecure about his age.
B: God, no. He’s a man after all and it’s Paul Rudd we’re talking about here. The guy ages like Benjamin Button.
A: Maybe his business is failing? That would give them a lot of issues to deal with.
A: Um, and their kids are annoying little cretins?
A: I think that’s enough.
B: No! Everyone grab a pen and paper and write down every argument you’ve ever had with your significant other.
A: Even the ones that have already been done to death, like ‘farting in bed’?
B: I said write everything!
Listen, people love characters that they can relate to, but relatability shouldn’t come at the expense of storytelling. “This is 40” clocks in at just over two hours and at least an hour and a half involves one character arguing with another. The parents argue, the kids argue, they all argue with each other; it’s rather exhausting. The charm that surprised us in “Knocked Up” is absent in this follow-up and the abscess is filled with barrage after barrage of negativity. If this were a stand-alone film you’d be expecting a suicide scene. It’s that depressing for the majority of its run-time. This is hard to fathom if all you’ve seen are the promotional materials which only show the family laughing and smiling together, but don’t be fooled – this film’s about as sweet as a year-old bagel.
Not only do the central family members seem to hate each other, but both parents are dealing with daddy issues of their own with Pete’s father Larry (Albert Brooks) leaching off his son and Debbie dealing with her distant, almost lethargic dad Oliver played by John Lithgow.
There are a few laughs to be had in the film so it’s not a total loss, but one has to wonder what’s happened to Appatow over his past few directorial pursuits. After the instant classics “40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” he decided to balance out the comedy in his following films with an almost off-putting amount of depression. “Funny People” somehow made us dislike both Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen in the same film and his wife Leslie Mann played yet another unlikeable character, an adulterous wife. So if you see her appearing in his next film, at least you know that he’ll make her character a completely insufferable nag. Along with competing with Will Smith for creating films to pimp his children, he might just be showing us that he may be better suited as a writer than director.
I really wanted to like this film but the tone is so distressing that half-way through I was hoping for a divorce. That may sound negative but at least it would have stretched their character arches so that instead of repeating the same problems they faced in “Knocked Up” we could watch them learn to deal with a new issue, because it’s clear that they learned nothing their first time around.
What could have been an interesting depiction of married life became a non-stop onslaught of every petty argument that families have on a daily basis. Anyone who’s taken a creative writing class has heard someone explain that they included details in their stories because they really happened, but whether details are realistic or not is not the question. The question is “What do they add to the story?” In “This is 40” the sad truth is that they add very little and subtract everything that the few comedic scenes help build in between. Save your money and start an argument with your own family members – at least that way you can decide when it ends.