Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures
Cast of “This Is 40.” From left to right: Maude and Iris Apatow, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann.

Film Review: 'This Is 40' tells American story, with laughs

By Dusty Henry

Judd Apatow is helping tell the American story and does so with a few fart jokes and foul words.

That sounds about right.

The marketing campaign for “This Is 40” is incredibly misleading. What looks like a dramatic film with some offbeat humor that panders to middle aged audiences is actually a hilarious and realistic snapshot of family life in 2012.

Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “The 40 Year-Old Virgin”) is known for writing and directing drama-comedies (“dramadies,” if you will) with mixed results. Whereas a film like “Funny People,” which starred Adam Sandler as a dying comedian trying to come to terms with his life, took themselves too seriously, “This Is 40” finds Apatow’s sweet spot.

The movie centers on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), who are married and both turning 40, and who were first introduced briefly in “Knocked Up.” Pete and Debbie are suffering through financial woes, are unable to connect with their children and are fighting more and more.

Sound familiar? That’s because it’s a description of most people in middle-class America.

There are more details that could be delved into with the subplots, but the story isn’t really the core of what the movie is about. It’s more of a narrative, giving a look at a family and how they interact, struggle, and try to persevere. As in real life, it’s tough to really come up with a resolution to all these issues, especially in the week time frame the movie takes place. In fact, most of the movie centers around Pete and Debbie trying to make a change and fix these problems, but (predictably) find it’s not so easy.

The thoughts put out in the movie aren’t just relevant to 40 year old people, though. With a variety of characters, the movie is made accessible to more kinds of audiences. It doesn’t take being middle aged to know what it's like to have parents argue over money or to know what it’s like to try and be a better person and feel like you’ve failed.

Apatow’s writing excels with the cast, which relies on a lot of his old standbys. Rudd and Mann have exceptional comic timing. As we’ve seen before, Rudd mostly plays it straight, adding a hint of realism to when he comments about hemorrhoids or sneaks cupcakes out of the garbage. Mann’s sometimes manic but endearing rants are delivered with just the right amount of urgency.

Their kids, played by Apatow and Mann’s own real life children, Maude and Iris Apatow, fit in well as caricatures of the emotional and angst-riddled pubescent teenager and weird, annoying little sister roles respectively.

Even calling this a “Sort-of Sequel to Knocked Up” as the movie posters say seems like a stretch. The only references made to Knocked Up are through character cameos. Who knows, maybe Apatow is planning some grand Avengers-type scheme to create a blockbuster that ties all of these movies together. Doubtful.

Instead, “This Is 40” is relevant simply because it's about real people. Real people swear. Real people argue. Real people don’t know what they’re doing all the time. It doesn’t pretend to have all the answers but knows very well how to point them out.

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