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The Independent Critic

Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Iris Apatow, John Lithgow, Jason Segel, Maude Apatow, Megan Fox, Melissa McCarthy and Albert Brooks
Judd Apatow
Rated R
134 Mins.
Universal Pictures


 "This is 40" Closer to "Funny People" than "Knocked Up"  
It happens every year during awards season for film critics.

As we arrive at awards season, each year finds us coming face-to-face with at least one or two films that the Hollywood studios seem to think are worthy of our attention. While the vast majority of films that we are asked to see are, indeed, worthy of our attention during awards season. There are always a couple of films that leave us scratching our heads wondering if we've lost our mind or if somebody owed someone a favor in the studio.

This is 40 is such a film.

This is 40 is not a horrible film, though it is a film that falls victim to Apatow's most self-indulgent tendencies as a filmmaker - timid editing, excessive introspection and a willingness to allow a scene to linger long past its freshness date, the latter being not so much about editing as it is about an openness to over-improvisation that too often sabotages the film rather than keeping it fresh.

This is 40 is far closer to Funny People than it is to Knocked Up, the latter being the film for which it is a loosely constructed sequel. The film centers around the now married couple of Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) along with their two children (played by Apatow/Mann's real life children Iris and Maude). In case it's not clear from the film's title, our two leads find themselves arriving at the age of 40 and not particularly happy about it. Of course, that could have as much to do with the fact that their lives are complete chaos. Pete's record company is nearly bankrupt, Debbie is going histrionic about the possibility that one of her employees (Megan Fox) is embezzling from her. To top everything off, Pete is trying to reconcile with his father (Albert Brooks) while, you guessed it, so is Debbie (John Lithgow).

Oh, and their kids? Let's just say that all this family dysfunction isn't doing them any favors.

At 134 minutes long, and I'm pretty sure it's actually longer, This is 40 feels like it's so devoted to creating an authentic relationship that Apatow ends up wringing almost everything funny out of the film. There are exceptions, but they're not nearly common enough to justify the film's excessive length and their impact is muted by Apatow's insistence on weaving awkwardness throughout the film in the form of overly intimate revelations and those mundane everything occurrences that really do happen in relationships but they sure don't make for good cinema.

A good buddy of mine, Ed Johnson-Ott of Indy-based alternative magazine Nuvo Newsweekly, had a chance to interview Apatow for this week's Nuvo and it was abundantly clear from their conversation that Apatow is making an artistic choice regarding his film's editing and his willingness to trust his actors' improvisational spirit. You may disagree with his artistic choice, and I often do in this film, but it's hard not to at least admire his artistic integrity.

While Apatow's last film, Funny People, had an abundance of flaws it also had a more grown up sensibility that seemed to show Apatow's willingness to tackle serious subjects in both humorous and surprisingly dramatic ways. Most Apatow fans would likely consider the film his least satisfying, though that will likely change with the arrival of This is 40, a film that emphasizes emotionally stunted histrionics that feel far too piecemeal to leave a lasting impact.

There are times, however, when Apatow really clicks with This is 40, mostly when the fantastic Albert Brooks is on the screen and, occasionally, when Melissa McCarthy is going a bit psycho as the mother of a boy who is apparently harassing one of the daughters. There are scenes where you get a glimpse of just how good a film This is 40 could have been, but more often than not it's when Pete and Debbie are still on the same side.

Unfortunately, that doesn't happen often enough.

While Apatow's presence on the Hollywood scene remains a genuinely good thing, he's not yet mastered the ability to look at the mature side of life in a way that feels both authentic and funny. For whatever reason, Apatow handled the young adult years quite brilliantly in films like Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The best that can be said about the family in This is 40 is that you'll likely leave the theater thankful it's not your own.

The worst thing about This is 40 isn't that it's far too long or even Apatow's directorial excesses, but instead it's that it feels like for the most part his immensely talented cast is floundering here including Leslie Mann, Apatow's real life wife and frequent collaborator. Mann is typically able to mine both the drama and the humor in her characters, but in This is 40 she comes off as a shrill, narcissistic and almost freakishly immature woman whose behavior unquestionably has created the monster known as her eldest daughter. Paul, as well, is disturbingly self-indulgent and living life through a tunnel vision lens that makes him even worse than unappealing - he's actually not very interesting.

The only performances that really shine here are those of Albert Brooks, whose performance should have been a sign to Apatow of the direction this film needed to go. Iris Apatow, as the youngest daughter, also has a few nicely dry and funny lines that mostly leave you wondering if she really belongs in this family.

I like what Apatow is trying to do here, but it feels a lot like the same type of struggle Adam Sandler has had in learning to balance everything that people know and love about him with the fact that he's a maturing man with a wife and children. My gut tells me that This is 40 isn't really the film that Apatow was trying to make, and while he falls short on this outing there's enough hopeful signs of maturity that I find myself still looking forward to his next cinematic endeavor.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic