I’m not a Judd Apatow fan and like many moviegoers who’ve already reached puberty, I find much of his work to be puerile, juvenile, etc. I shudder to apply the term “auteur” to this over the top writer/ director/producer, just as calling Tyler Perry one likewise induces nausea. So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed This is 40. Yes, it has the usual Apatowian obsession with body parts and bodily functions, but since 40 deals with an older generation instead of teens, Apatow has graduated and moved up to Viagra and hemorrhoid jokes.
This is 40 is being hyped as a sorta sequel to 2007’s Knocked Up, wherein Apatow’s usual immaturity reduces sexuality to an act that leads to childbirth and the hyper-responsibility of parenthood that more or less precludes recreational sex. Fortunately, 40 does not focus on the annoying Seth Rogen and cloying Katherine Heigl, who, like bad needles stuck in the groove of damaged LPs, both seem to play the same role over and over again (give or take a Green Hornet or two). Luckily, this dull duo are not in 40, which features Knocked Up’s other couple, Pete and Debbie, who are played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann.
As the title suggests, This is 40 deals with these married non-virgins as they hit the Big Four-0. Since we met Pete and Debbie last, in just five years they somehow managed to spawn a teenager, Sadie, plus another daughter, Charlotte, who is older than five — but never mind, this is the movies. (BTW, both girls are portrayed by Apatows real life daughters, Iris — not Harold — and Maude). Nevertheless, one of the best things about 40 is that it kind of unspools like real life. As both Pete and Debbie turn 40 in the same week they’re faced with not only the anxieties of aging — at first, Deb is in a state of denial — but problems with their own parents/in-laws, raising their own kids and perhaps most tellingly, financial problems. Depression, after all, is an economic as well as psychological term.
This is the strongest element of This is 40, which joins the ranks of recent features such as Up in the Air and The Company Men in rather realistically relating how today’s bad economy is negatively affecting people’s lives. In addition to the financial meltdown, Pete has to contend with changes brought on by technology. The Internet has wrought wonders, but in its wake New Media has devastated much of the old, especially in book/magazine/newspaper publishing and in the music industry. Pete has chosen this moment in time to open an independent record label and his efforts to launch the 60-something artist he’s signed runs into the head winds of the new realities of the digital world, with its free downloads, intellectual property theft, et al. Meanwhile, Debbie’s boutique is beset by an unaccountable theft of merchandise and loss of income.
Along with the dire needs of Pete and Debbie to downsize their entire lifestyle, the other really good thing about 40 is its cast. Graham Parker, who had a hit album back in 1975, plays himself as the aforementioned British rocker, who today suffers from gout. This musician is joined by Albert Brooks as Larry, Pete’s Minnie the Moocher dad, a failed businessman. It’s curtains for this curtains salesman, who is reduced to panhandling and taking handouts from his son, especially to keep his second, much younger family afloat amidst the flotsam and jetsam of our collapsing capitalist economy. It’s always a joy to see Brooks onscreen, and he is a sight for sore eyes as he kibitzes with his son and quibbles with his daughter-in-law.
As Debbie’s absentee dad, the highly paid, WASPy surgeon Oliver, John Lithgow provides a stark counterpoint to the Jewish Larry. Is it better to have a broke ass dad who always has his hand out or a well-to-do father who’s never around? At least Oliver’s making an effort in this film.
As the boutique saleswomen Desi and Jodi, Megan Fox and comedian Charlyne Yi also add to the overall merriment. Which of them have been stealing from Debbie’s shop? The hot Desi screws a customer on the boutique’s counter and has a deep, dark secret of her own. Yi gods — this comedian is nuts! Yi played a character named Jodi in Knocked Up and starred in and co-wrote her own skewed take on love in 2009’s Paper Heart, so as with Brooks, it’s good fun to see this quirky, goofy comic back on the big screen.
Meanwhile, as the story unfolds (kind of horizontally instead of vertically, as many lives do), Pete and Debbie alternately argue, have a charming romantic interlude, fret over finances, try to raise their daughters in this troubled age, and somehow keep themselves afloat as they turn 40 and face uncertainty plus the prospect of middle age. Unfortunately, unlike most of us treading water in this economy that forces more and more of us to join the ranks of les miserables, Pete and Debbie have escape hatches unavailable to most of us. But aside from this — after all, Apatow isn’t exactly a message moviemaker like Michael Moore — This is 40 is a pretty realistic, highly enjoyable look at a modern couple and their very contemporary, daunting woes, as they try to keep their heads, and the heads of their relatives, above water.