Having found the mainstream success that eluded Kevin Smith (Clerks) as a purveyor of gross-out comedy with heart, only to see Funny People under-perform, Judd Apatow revisits the characters of long-time married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), from box office behemoth Knocked Up.
This Is 40 is, presumably, the writer/director/producer's most personal story, with Mann (his real-life wife) playing screen mother to their real-life kids. It's no surprise that he picked the handsome and charming avatar of Paul Rudd to represent himself in this deceptively formulaic collection of observations about the waning spark of middle-aged married life, even though co-star Robert Smigel would have been a more realistic representation.
Think Kevin Smith trying to write for Everybody Loves Raymond and you'll have a pretty good idea of the type of obvious and sentimental nuclear family wart-exposing Apatow's trading in. There isn't a particularly strong narrative structure to propel this occasionally funny, but highly indulgent comedy. Both turning the dreaded four-zero in the same week, Pete and Debbie evaluate their frustrations and bad habits while hiding vital information from each other.
Pete is a former Sony PR guy trying to make a go of a retro record label (which leads to a few cameos and a lot of nostalgia) in an unforgiving economic climate. Debbie is in denial about her age, trying to combat gravity and her husband's growing sexual indifference by working with a personal trainer (Jason Segel).
Oddly, both have extreme, but opposing daddy issues at the heart of their unhappiness. Pete's father (Albert Brooks) is a perpetually mooching deadbeat with three new children; Debbie's absentee father (John Lithgow) is a wealthy surgeon who skipped out on her and her mother when she was a child and started a new family.
As funny as raw honesty can be, This Is 40 is hampered by forced conflict and the pudgy editorial indulgence of a Stephen King novel. Were Charlotte (Iris Apatow, the more natural performer of the two) and Sadie (Maude Apatow) not the director's children, their scenes would very likely have been more judiciously pared down. Overt doting doesn't do the picture's flabby pacing any favours.
Still, mainstream audiences should find plenty to be amused by, like Pete referencing Melissa McCarthy's "iCunt" or thrusting his haemorrhoid-ridden anus at his wife as payback for having to witness childbirth twice. The recurring musical cue of Fiona Apple's "So Sleepy" and a new song written specifically for the movie suggest an emotional gravitas that doesn't come across in the narrative.
No matter how broody and moody Pete and Debbie's joint mid-life crisis gets, there's never any genuine concern that their story will end in anything other than casual acceptance and more fart jokes. (Universal)