Sean K. Cureton

Apatow’s First and Only Truly Bad Film

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on December 30, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Theatrical Poster

This is 40
Directed by Judd Apatow
2 out of 4 stars

This is 40, the fourth film written and directed by Judd Apatow, is a sequel to Apatow’s 2007 film Knocked Up in the same way that Get Him to the Greek in 2010 was a sequel to Jason Segel’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall in 2008. Namely, each subsequent film borrowed part of the supporting cast from its respective initial film in order to make a film about that said part of the supporting cast. Unfortunately, as was the case with Get Him to the Greek, which proved just how tiresome Russell Brand’s sense of humor can be, Apatow’s This is 40 fails to measure up to its brilliant predecessor, turning the characters Pete and Debbie from comic foils to comic failures.

Set around the respective 40th birthdays of the two title characters, Pete and Debbie played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, This is 40 tells the story of this couple’s trials and tribulations as a married couple with kids dealing with a mid-life crisis. In addition to the tension created by their age, Pete and Debbie are also beset by financial difficulties, a worrisome daughter, and two difficult fathers who are either too clingy (Pete’s dad, played by Albert Brooks) or too closed off (Debbie’s dad, played by John Lithgow). Ultimately, Pete and Debbie come out of the film alright, or at least as alright as they can be given the fact that there is no indication that they will ever stop fighting or being downright mean and irresponsible towards anyone that they don’t live or work with, which is just what makes this film so flawed and hard to watch.

Where Apatow’s prior films have been about crude and immature adults, those films have also maintained a grain of respect for other people and a certain genuine sweetness in those films’ main characters and protagonists. In Knocked Up, Seth Rogen’s Ben Stone is a pot addled man child with no means of even comprehending how to take care of a child, yet he is also genuinely sweeter than his stooge roommates, and comes out of the film ready and willing to take care of his new wife and child. In 2005’s The 40 Year Old Virgin, vulgar adult humor abounds throughout the film, and most of the supporting characters are immoral and immature. Yet Steve Carell as the protagonist is kind and tenderhearted, and provides for the film’s moral center that allows for the vulgar humor to become a subtle satire of male licentiousness rather than being simply tasteless and sophomoric.

In This is 40, however, Pete and Debbie belittle others for laughs from the audience, whine seemingly about not much at all, and come off as mean and unworthy of the audience’s attention or sympathy. In particular, there is a scene in the film where Debbie berates and emotionally tortures a young boy because he insulted Debbie’s daughter online. This sequence is meant to be funny, with Mann displaying her ability to riff and improvise off of the script, yet it comes off as simply cruel and plays off of one’s worst impulses. Worse yet, the boy’s mother, who Pete then insults in a possibly worse manner than his wife insulted the mother’s child, is ignored in her pleas with the school’s principal while Pete and Debbie lie through their teeth and smirk malevolently.

Screenwriter and former creative partner of Judd Apatow, Mike White, recently made a public comment on Apatow’s more recent work, remarking on how Apatow’s films have come to be about the bullies where they were previously about the bullied. Such a statement seems apt when considering Apatow’s new film, which derives much of its humor from cruelty and bullying, and offers no character with which one can identify or sympathize with. This is not to say, however, that all of the film’s scenes don’t work or are mean-spirited unanimously. On the contrary, a lot of the film is laugh-out-loud funny, with the same kind of cultural sensibility and awareness that has come to define Apatow’s films over the past decade. In fact, if Apatow had possibly edited the film a little further, with the possible addition of a few more scenes and the reordering of existing ones, This is 40 might have been a completely different film, a film that would have been more genuine and kinder, like the films that Apatow certainly has in him, and was probably trying to replicate in this film. Unfortunately though, This is 40 was not subjected to any further editing, and as it stands, it is the weakest film in Apatow’s film oeuvre by far, for more reasons than one.


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