Review: This Is 40 (As they tell young ladies: Temper Your Expectations)
Less like its prequel (Knocked Up) and more like Funny People, This is 40 chooses pathos over punch lines to tell the story of a loving but dispassionate couple turning 40 and writhing in anxiety.
For small business owners, Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) are disturbingly calm. One of Debbie’s employees has stolen $12,000 from her boutique, and Pete’s high-integrity record label is un-compromising itself out of business—but they are not talking about it. They’re living proof that living the dream involves its fair share of nightmare and no bad dream is bigger than waking up one day and finding out you’re old; it’s a narcissists’ fear but it's also near universal. That said, writer/director Judd Apatow’s audience isn’t necessarily of-age for this message. Plus, he's evoking the tone of his mentor James L. Brooks, and along with it a squirrelly sort of story structure that feels as unclearly directed as real life and therefore frustratingly unmoored—watching This is 40 actually feels like aging, which isn’t precisely a draw.
When the couple fights, it’s as if the good we saw them share minutes ago didn’t happen, and while this feels true, it’s also confusing because we’re meant to believe this couple has over 15 years together—in which case, where are their coping mechanisms? The kids are great—again—and their conflicts are as believably breezy as they are sharply painful, but the general feeling of structure-lessness drawn out past two hours dilutes the affection we could be enjoying by weighing on our patience. I loved the pain-in-comedy of Funny People, but since Funny People was really about foreign people, it was easier to explore their hardships with a distance. Debbie and Pete’s plight is meant to be familiar and so can’t benefit from the same treatment—what we lose is a catharsis and that’s a shame, because if you’re standing at the precipice of 40, catharsis could save your life.