Have you ever been stuck at a dinner party where one couple continued to bicker and argue to the point that it became so uncomfortable that you considered diving through a plate glass window to escape?
Now imagine being trapped at that dinner party for two and half hours, which is what it is like watching the new Judd Apatow film “This Is 40.”
Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) reprise their roles as Pete and Debbie, a married couple we first met as supporting characters in an earlier Apatow movie, “Knocked Up.”
While Pete and Debbie’s dysfunctional relationship was kinda-sorta amusing in small doses the first time around, it is practically torturous to endure over the course of an entire movie.
They are unlikeable people who are incredibly hard to root for and they are only relatable through the prism of our most petty and selfish aspects.
Pete and Debbie live an upper-middle-class lifestyle that strains under the weight of owning their own businesses, parenting their emotionally unhinged daughters, dealing with unresolved issues with their own parents, and confronting problems of sexual intimacy. It’s like watching a whole season’s worth of Dr. Phil episodes. Oh, and it’s a comedy.
Because Pete and Debbie have so many issues it becomes impossible to care about any of them. The financial struggles of Pete’s record label and employee issues at Debbie’s clothing store could have been interesting if given a little more time and attention.
The same goes for the generational divide as their daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (played by Maude and Iris Apatow; Mann and Apatow’s actual daughters), struggle with growing up in such a toxic atmosphere. Along with Debbie’s emotionally distant father (John Lithgow) and Pete’s relentless mooch of a father (played by Albert Brooks, who is consistently the funniest thing in the movie) this immediate family dynamic could have made for an interesting enough film all on its own.
Or maybe he just should have made the thing a raunchy sex comedy, but instead of with teenagers you have middle-aged people dealing with getting older in addition to the frank and hilariously unpleasant realities of physical intimacies whilst married with children.
But by making all these movies at the same time, Apatow has diluted his product to the point that “This Is 40” is mostly tedious and unfunny.
I think Apatow is a great producer. His ability to find and foster comedic talent is unparalleled in Hollywood and the reason his name has been attached to some of the funniest movies and television shows of the past 15 years.
But as a writer/director he has yet to recapture that perfect balance of hilarity and heart he struck with his feature-length debut, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” In fact, from “Knocked Up” to “Funny People” now to “This Is 40” the returns are increasingly diminished.
Apatow’s problems as I see them are twofold. First, he’s not nearly as profound as he thinks he is and needs to pull back on trying to make his audience think and instead work harder on getting them to laugh.
Secondly, the guy needs a mean, cutthroat editor. “This Is 40” clocks in at 134 minutes, which is way, way too long for anything that even remotely considers itself a comedy.
“I have to bring the hammer down even though I believe Apatow’s heart is in the right place. He’s trying to make honest and sincere comedies about adult relationships but he fails because he can’t make them about characters we can actually stand to be in the same room with.”
“This Is 40” is rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language, and some drug material.