Given that its focus is squarely on everyday stuff like relationships with family, friends, co-workers and acquaintances, it seems fair to call Judd Apatow’s new film This is 40 a slice of life.
But given that the movie is for the most part a sloppy, sprawling mess, it’s equally fair to call it a big, unwieldy slice that may well leave viewers feeling uncomfortably stuffed but strangely unsatisfied.
Apatow, the writer-director of hit comedies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, has become something of a brand name in Hollywood over the last few years.
And as is sometimes the case with such success stories, he’s looking to broaden his creative horizons and shift into something that’s perhaps a little more complicated and meaningful.
It’s a noble goal, of course, and Apatow – whose work has previously managed to combine humour and heart in some truly memorable ways – certainly appeared capable of making that transition.
But with his last film Funny People, and now with This is 40, he has fallen prey to a self-indulgence that comes close to being fatal.
There are laughs in This is 40, true, but they’re scattered sporadically throughout a story about two people it becomes harder and harder to care about as the film goes through its paces for close to two and a quarter hours.
Those people are Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann), last seen as the combative in-laws of Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s characters in Knocked Up.
As they provided a bracing reality check in that film, demonstrating that family life wasn’t always a bed of roses, it seems strange that Apatow would wish to devote a whole movie to them and their passive-aggressive (and sometimes just plain aggressive) interaction.
That said, it’s clear that the filmmaker views these characters as surrogates for himself and his family – Mann is Apatow’s wife in real life, and the couple’s two daughters, Maude and Iris, play Pete and Debbie’s children.
Such identification doesn’t automatically make for better storytelling, though. Because all that This is 40 provides is a long, long string of loosely connected scenes about the evasive Pete and the confrontational Debbie wrestling with dilemmas ranging from financial woes to child-raising difficulties.
Various moments are sure to ring true for various viewers, sure. And a cast that includes the likes of Albert Brooks, Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy and The Sapphires’ Chris O’Dowd is going to provide the occasional laugh, no doubt. (That said, the funniest cast member is actually Megan Fox, displaying a dry, precise wit as one of Debbie’s employees.)
But in the end, This is 40 is two hours and change stuck in the company of two people constantly taking shots at one another. It’s about as much fun as it sounds.