Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are both about to turn 40, they have two beautiful daughters, own a nice home and each own their own businesses. Things couldn't be going better for them except for how neither one wants to give up their vices, their beautiful daughters are distant and disconnected from them, they are about to lose their nice home and both of their businesses are suffering a series of temporary financial set backs. Pete and Debbie must find a way to make all ends meet and rediscover themselves before their marriage and home falls apart.
"This is 40" is yet another in a long line of Judd Apatow productions dealing with people doing everyday things in an every day ordinary life just trying to get by. It's a simple enough concept that has been the subject of comedies for decades but Apatow's added special touch turns these mostly silly character studies into extensions of ourselves. When we look at Pete and Debbie, we don't simply see characters, we see us and our loved ones in just about every single thing they do. That is what makes his films stand above the rest, that ability to create characters that resonate with us and reflect our own values and shortcomings back at us with a wink and a smile.
From the very outset we identify with Pete and Debbie as we see them go through their familiar routines. They aren't strange or funny in a outright comedic way or over playing their hands and trying to over dramatize their situation. This isn't a sitcom family nor is it a picture perfect one, these are two people with real issues and real problems that every single one of us can relate to. Pete is supposed to be watching what he eats but can't say no to his over indulgence with cupcakes (even if they have been run under the faucet). Debbie wants so badly to feel young again that she pretends she is turning 38 and despite her ever nitpicking towards Pete about his cupcake obsession, she can't help but light up a cigarette every once in a great while herself.
Their conversations often fluctuate between funny witticisms and outright confrontations. One second they are all lovey dovey and the next they are mortal enemies. In short, they are married, and it feels all too real at times which only adds to the humor. What makes it so real are the natural and charismatic performances by Rudd and Mann, neither of which are doing anything out of their comfort zone here. Heck, the film is even billed as a somewhat sequel to "Knocked Up" where both played the same exact characters once before. There is a natural comfort level between the two actors that makes you believe they have been married for over 20 years which becomes invaluable in constructing a believable framework for their relationship.
It's not just their interactions as a married couple that feels authentic though, it is their kids, their jobs and their financial concerns as well, this feels like a real family unit. These aren't people cracking jokes (well, sometimes they do), the comedy comes from that sense of reality Apatow is so good at harnessing. We laugh at how Pete hides away in the restroom with his iPad because perhaps we are reminded of our own need to escape the confines of a relationship and responsibilities sometimes, but we are also ashamed of it because we know it isn't right despite how much we might need that short lived freedom. We laugh at how Debbie wants to trick herself into thinking she isn't turning 40 yet because no one wants to get older and everyone can relate to the little things she does to postpone it (the best is how she apparently has three different dates of birth at her doctor's office). It's all in good fun and helps the audience identify with this troubled couple.
Their troubles run deeper than just normal every day problems though, they have trust issues with Pete continuing to provide his excessively needy father (Albert Brooks) with financial assistance which is only topped by his refusal to tell his wife that they are going to lose their house very soon. Both of their businesses, Pete's struggling record label and Debbie's modestly successful clothing store, provide plenty of problems as well, Pete trying to find a way to promote an album nobody wants and Debbie dealing with her employee (Megan Fox) allegedly stealing a large sum of money from the store. These aren't the types of jobs and issues the majority of families deal with on a daily basis, but the stress and that need to be supported by ones spouse is shared by everyone and that is the true success of "This is 40". Even if it gets there in a round about way, the issues at hand and how Pete and Debbie confront them (or try to pretend they don't exist) will feel all too familiar to just about anyone.
The film's only real stumbling blocks comes in the form of its excessive length and Judd Apatow's consistent need to add sub plots on top of sub plots with a host of secondary and side characters who don't really add much of anything of value to the story of Pete and Debbie. Jason Segel (reprising his role from "Knocked Up") adds absolutely nothing as Debbie's physical therapist, the aforementioned Megan Fox storyline gets way too much screentime for a sidestory that is never even really resolved and then both Segel and Fox have a sidestory together built out of nothing at the end simply because they are at the same party. Pete and Debbie's estranged parents are fine but giving them their own set of problems that must be resolved on top of the problems they already have with Pete and Debbie is extreme overkill for a film already filled to the brim with complications and don't even mention an 11th hour cameo appearance by Melissa McCarthy as an angry mom whose existence in this film serves absolutely zero purpose.
The business's of Pete and Debbie also provide way too many unneeded distractions. Did we really need to see not one, but TWO performances by Graham Parker? We get it Judd, you like Graham Parker but come on now. Did we really need a heist mystery at Debbie's store that involved her investigating her employees and even going out to night clubs with them? Did we need to see Pete's assistant all the time and learn about his troublesome life? Sure, these moments or characters may add layers and depth to Pete and Debbie's lives, but their own personal problems are already engaging and dense enough that all this added fluff feels wholly unnecessary. The problem with criticizing all these additional elements is that on the surface they work just fine and have fine actors in the roles, but it's just too darn much in the end.
Luckily none of that detracts from the films greater strengths. Pete and Debbie's many ordeals remain entertaining and heartfelt throughout. When they get into fights we get upset and when they make up we get happy for them. Why? Because, once again we can relate to them. Knowing that they can somehow figure a way around their getting older and learning how to live while changing their lives around to compensate for their age and financial issues somehow makes us feel better inside because it lets us know there is a chance for us as well. "This is 40" is a film filled to the brim with heartache and good intentions and thankfully, mostly due to the two principal actors, it succeeds where many other similarly themed films fail. If you are in the market for a fun and light comedy about getting older and all the complications that come with it, then this will fit that bill nicely.