It’s weird to think we’re only four movies in to Judd Apatow’s directing career, because for the last ten years he’s become a brand. Between working with Adam McKay and Will Ferrell on their comedies, to launching Seth Rogen and Kristen Wiig (and more), he established that he was one of the biggest forces in comedy. But his most recent film, This is 40, came out and it didn’t feel like event. It’s a modest film that’s enjoyable enough, but feels like a B side. Our review of This is 40 follows after the jump.
Following the characters Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) from his previous hit Knocked Up, Apatow wants to show the tumultuous relationship between two people who love each other, but have kids and sometimes want to kill each other. The film starts with Debbie turning 40, though she has everyone pretend that she’s 38. She runs a clothing shop, while Pete’s started his own record label to release the works of musicians like Graham Parker (playing himself), an artist whose peak was three decades ago. They are struggling financially, partly because Pete’s label is a dud, and partly because Pete keeps giving money to his father (Albert Brooks), who recently had triplets and needles his son to support him.
They have two daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow), with Sadie just starting puberty. As Pete is about to have his fortieth birthday as well, the two are trying to figure out how to be happier and live more healthy lives. For Pete that means giving up his cupcakes, while for Debbie that means quitting her secret smoking. But with Pete’s hopes for a better future based on selling Graham Parker’s albums, the reality is that people don’t spend a lot of money on older recording artists, and so they may have to move, while Debbie finds out that she’s pregnant, and Maude may have a boy who’s crushing on her, which leads to a fight with the boy’s mother (Melissa McCarthy).
At this point, Judd Apatow (as a director) has had two smash hits (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up), a misfire (Funny People) and this film, which did just okay. The films that have worked best have really catchy, easy to understand premises: A forty-year-old who’s never had sex; falling in love after you got someone pregnant. Those first two were straight-ahead comedies with heart, where Funny People and This is 40 had less easy-to-digest premises, and also played more on the dramedy angle, which may be why they didn’t connect as readily. This may say more about marketing than the films themselves, but it’s easy to see why 40 didn’t make a huge dent in pop culture. It’s about a specific thing, and about white middle class (or upper middle class) people who basically invent problems for themselves.
Though there is real fiscal turmoil, it seems more of a plot point than something felt. Money ruins a lot of marriages, and though the film is hopeful, Apatow never gets to the point where anyone has to make real sacrifices because of it. Though the film was critiqued for being the one percent’s 40 more than anyone else’s (and it is that, for the most part), the biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t seem that connected to the real world when it comes to fiscal stress. That said, the relationship between Rudd and Mann is believable, and that holds the picture together.
Like most of Apatow’s movies there’s also a lot of good supporting players, like Brooks, Robert Smiegel, Jason Segel, Michael Ian Black, Chris O’Dowd and more, but Apatow also gets good stuff out of Megan Fox, who is funny in the film. John Lithgow is fine as Debbie’s father, though that both he and Albert Brooks have started new families feels like unnecessary doubling.
What Apatow was after, and what he achieves with the most success with is how two people who love each other can go through highs and lows. Pete likes to escape by hiding in the bathroom, and Debbie has to nag him to get him involved, which she resents because why would he want to hide from his family? He’s also dismissive of her love of pop cultural things because he’s still attached (loosely) to the integrity of the art he loves. And over the course of the two hours and fourteen minutes he wants to show the lows and the highs throughout, which gives the film a more hang out feel that some of his other films. At this point Apatow should probably make a full-on drama, perhaps he needs to scratch that itch. This is better than it looked, but it’s also easy to see why it was hard to make it appointment viewing.
Universal’s Blu-ray comes with a DVD and digital copy. The film is presented in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound with the film available in its theatrical (134 min.) and an unrated cut (137 min.), as with other Apatow films, the unrated cut often uses different takes, so it’s not just three additional minutes, but different runs on the same material. Apatow provides a commentary for the theatrical cut, and for the first time does it by himself. He’s a gracious host, and gets at what he was going for.
And like all previous Apatow special editions, this is stuffed with bonus material. There is a two part making of (50 min.), which plays up that this is very autobiographical for Apatow and his family, and gives the guest players a moment to talk about their work. It’s followed by “This is Albert Brooks (at Work)” (11 min.), and “Graham Parker & The Rumour: Long Emotional Ride” (18 min.) on the band getting back together. This is followed by a “Music” section which has Parker and The Rumour playing five songs (21 min.), Parker preforming two (6 min.) by himself, and Ryan Adams performing three numbers (10 min.).
This is followed by fifteen deleted scenes (36 min.), nine extended and alternate scenes (18 min.), two gag reels (8 min.), two line-o-ramas (9 min.), and one Albert “Brooks-o-rama” (3 min.). Then there’s “Biking with Barry” (3 min.), which offers Schmigel and Rudd improving on bikes, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s visit to the set (9 min.), “Kids on the Loose 3” (12 min.), which shows Maude and Iris goofing around, a “Bodies By Jason” commercial (1 min.), and an interview with Judd Apatow from Fresh Air with Terry Gross (44 min.). It’s loaded, and the supplements are enjoyable to watch, as there is always a lot of additional material that’s funny, but unneeded.