The funny but unnecessarily-long This is 40 has its moments, just not enough of them to recommend it.
For a film starring the director's wife and kids and consisting of the same creative team that made 40-Year-Old Virgin, one would think the rom-com This is 40 would have everything it needed to tell the funniest personal love story in recent memory. Set up not as a sequel but a spinoff, This is 40 picks up several years after the events of Knocked Up, following the couple Pete (Paul Rudd, I Love You, Man) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, Last Man Standing) as they deal with the doldrums of marriage and family. Slowly, the couple has grown distant towards each other, as Pete has started his own record label, while Debbie runs an independent clothing store. Meanwhile, their two girls (Apatow's real-life daughters) are connected to the digital world, content to answer Facebook posts rather than speak to each other. But underneath the sheen of a beautfiul home and successful careers, there's too many cracks to keep the foundation from failing: Debbie is a closet smoker, while Pete is hiding his record label's financial problems. It's the new American family, connected in every way but personal; something has to give and soon it does. Setting off a chain of funny but mostly uncomfortable scenes, family issues begin to creep into their relationship, courtesy of Pete's mooching father (Albert Brooks, Finding Nemo) and Debbie's attempts to reconnect with her biological father (John Lithgow, Third Rock from the Sun). As Pete's 40th birthday arrives, our couple must make a decision to either re-ignite their commitment to one another or walk away from everything.
This is 40 feels more like a sequel to John Cusack's classic High Fidelity than Knocked Up, filled with enjoyable albeit obscure music and trying desperately to say funny and intelligent things along the way. The trouble comes not from the hilarious but scattered gags or the awkward parental situations but in its 135-minute runtime, which sucks up any momentum with ineffective dissertations about the importance of family and love, and eating right. This is 40 could have competed with Ted for best comedy of the year. Unfortunately, the script by Writer/Producer/Director Judd Apatow (40 Year Old Virgin) lingers through too many scenes like a party guest who won't leave even after repeated cues from the host. Blame should also be placed on Editor Brent White (Anchorman), who should have taken greater care to balance what eventually becomes too much dramedy for its own good. Apatow is at his best when he encourages Rudd, Mann, and Bridesmaids co-star Melissa McCarthy to ad-lib, producing some terrific gut-busting humor. But as soon as we're done laughing, we're thrown back into the serious relationship angle as our couple considers divorce or deals with yet another manufactured difficulty. Charming.
Mann might be the funniest thing about 40, comfortable to bust out a snarky comment one minute then hit us with her dazzling smile the next. She doesn't have a lot of memorable films to her name, but 40 should give her the comedic street cred she deserves to secure better roles. For now, her presence dominates most scenes she's in, which is a welcomed surprise. The supporting cast is serviceable but ultimately fails to elicit anything beyond a mere chuckle. Even the appearance of career wrecker Megan Fox (Transformers) as a prostitute seems out of place, although her lingerie scene with Mann will keep the guys focused if only for a moment. Memo to Fox: if this what your career has become, it might be time to raise your child and call your career. We've seen so many examples this year of directors who take on too many duties - This is 40 does nothing but strengthen my belief that directors can doom their project before shooting commences. While it's not uncommon for people like Apatow to bring along staff from previous projects, it's clear that this particular mix, combined with an overly fattened script, clouded his judgement about what and where to cut. Too bad, because this film had so much potential.
In the end, This is 40 isn't terrible, but it's not memorable either. You'll laugh a lot, but also catch yourself hoping for a quicker finish than the film produces. It's this incompatibility which ultimately dooms things, making us hope that Pete and Debbie would either get laid more or just get a divorce. Audiences shouldn't have to make such choices; and while it's selfish for us to admit, it's par for the course for this self-serving film. This is 40 is rated R for nudity and more sexual situations than one can count. Skip the theater and wait for the rental.
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