Thursday, December 27, 2012
Sometime after the hilarious Knocked Up (2007), writer/director Judd Apatow inexplicably decided to become a serious filmmaker. It was as if, similar to Seth Rogen’s character in that film, Apatow felt he needed to stop being an overgrown kid and start telling adult stories. This approach has resulted in the uneven Adam Sandler-starring Funny People (2009) and now This Is 40, the similarly uneven sort-of sequel to Knocked Up.
Apatow has more success in 40 than he did in Funny People, but the film is still far too serious to not suffer from tonal issues. The premise is rife with opportunity: Pete (Paul Rudd) and Deb (Leslie Mann) are both turning 40, and their lives are at a crossroads. Pete’s record company is on the brink of collapse as he tries to push a retro artist who’s well past his prime. Deb questions their happiness in the midst of her apparel store missing $12,000, and her employees (Charlyne Yi and Megan Fox, very good here) are less than trustworthy. With daughters Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) growing up fast and having troubles of their own, Pete and Deb’s marriage is put to the ultimate test. (Fun fact: Mann is Apatow’s real-life wife, and Maude and Iris are their children.)
There are some very funny moments, including Pete’s not-so-coy ways of evading responsibility (i.e. the bathroom), Fox’s amusing and sexy scenes, and Mann joking about the effect children have on a woman’s body. These scenes, however, come in spurts, and far too often give way to the deep emotional and dramatic issues that take center stage.
Both Pete and Deb have issues with their fathers: Pete’s is Larry (Albert Brooks), who just had triplets of his own and constantly mooches off Pete, while Deb’s is Oliver (John Lithgow), who abandoned her when she was young and is only now working his way back into her life. Pete and Deb also fight over the kids having issues in school, sex, money, responsibility, honesty, you name it.
In fact, there’s not much they don’t fight about. Part of this feels realistic, as couples can and do fight about anything, especially during stressful times. But honesty ceases to be a virtue when we get tired of hearing them chirp at each other. When Deb asks if they would still be married if it weren’t for the kids, you can’t help but think the answer is no. And when we start hoping they break up just so they’ll stop yelling at one another, the whole premise of “hey, watch this family overcome drama” that we’re supposed to buy into is lost.
A lot of comedies have dramatic moments, and dramas almost always have moments of comic relief. A good dramedy mixes both seamlessly. A bad dramedy, as This Is 40 is, clumsily flip-flops from one to the other, prompting the tone to fluctuate wildly. As a result it’s all over the place and goes nowhere, kind of like Pete and Deb’s arguments.
This is 40 (2) • Directed by Judd Apatow • Starring Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow • Rated R • 134 min • At Northridge Cinemas, Maya Cinemas, Century Cinemas Del Monte.