I’ve become a little wary of judging a comedy’s potential by its trailer. It has happened too often that the trailer contains the entirety of the laughs found in the movie which just means you’re staring at the parts in between waiting for something to happen. The second, more annoying, problem is that some trailers don’t reflect the tone of the film at all. What seemed like an insightful, sharp comedy in the trailer is actually a tortured, angsty piece filled with highly self-aware characters and situations that render the humour flat, rehearsed and ultimately unsatisfactory. This is why, even though I thought the trailer for Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 was pretty tremendous, I went into the film with very low expectations. Turns out there are exceptions to the good trailer=bad movie rule.
This Is 40 takes us into the world of Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd), a good-looking couple with two lovely daughters and a big house. Both Debbie and Pete turn 40 in the same week, but the number looms over her more than it does him. She is extra sensitive, he is just, well, being a guy, not even realizing he’s pushing buttons he should stay away from. He learns Viagra is not always considered well-meaning, she learns that you can be at the receiving end of Too Much Information from a man you know inside-out. In the middle of the circus are their two daughters, 13-year-old Sadie (Maude Apatow), busy navigating puberty and a hormone-induced emotional rollercoaster by consuming a constant supply of the TV show Lost, and sweet 8-year-old Charlotte (Iris Apatow), just desperate for her older sister’s attention.
Debbie is not one to wallow so she sets out to make an action plan for how they can make the best of their life, given that they are reaching a major milestone. Bigger, better, slower, more laid back – physical fitness, couples therapy, healthy eating, letting go of grudges – this is her plan. Pete’s biggest struggles are giving up cupcakes, trying to make the independent record company he set up work so that the music he is passionate about reaches a big audience, and also so that Debbie doesn’t find out they’re having money problems. This is 40 and this can be won. For anyone who has ever looked a milestone in the face (figuratively of course) and decided to emerge stronger and fearless on the other side, you know just how exhausting and unrealistic this can be. This film really knows how to laugh at that.
Even though the movie title is very specific, there are many moving parts that make it relatable even if you’re nowhere near 40 or a suburban couple with a crazy family and employees that look like Megan Fox (more on that later). The relationship between Debbie and Pete is not volatile with dramatic highs and lows, it is just… constant. There are no ebbs and flows, no breathing room, just all stream of consciousness all the time, without any self-censorship and this in itself can wear the most well-intentioned couple down. Love-hate is easy. Love with moments of extreme frustration is an exhausting source of guilt, no matter what age you are.
Then there is the basic premise itself, the whole drama-over-turning-40 thing. It would be easy to dismiss it as an over-reaction, a manufactured problem if it weren’t for the very real fear of whether you have made the most of the opportunities offered to you because time is running out and you may not have many more – also known as navigating the treacherous waters of being an adult. Not a lesson taught in any school. This is when you come across those stupid ‘Life is not a dress rehearsal’ bumper stickers and want to kick something hard.
The movie’s biggest strength is the script as brought to life by a stellar cast. Not surprising, I’m guessing Judd Apatow can cast whoever he likes and he chose well. Mann is certainly not in the lead because she happens to be, oh you know, Mrs. Apatow. In real life, if a woman who looked like her, was married to Paul Rudd, had two lovely kids and a gorgeous house complained about turning 40 you would want to slap her. Mann plays exactly this person on screen as Debbie but she does it so sincerely, she doesn’t inspire any irritation. She even delivers a pretty epic rant at a thirteen year old schoolboy, because he slighted her daughter on Facebook, without coming off like a crazy shrew. Major props. Rudd’s Pete is goofy enough to eat a discarded cupcake out of a kitchen sink but earnest and almost naïve enough to believe that good music will prevail if only people would take a moment to listen.
Then there’s the supporting cast – the two daughters, both staying delightfully on the right side of nuts, Megan Fox gamely poking fun at herself by playing a hot store attendant with dubious morals, How I Met Your Mother’s Jason Segel as a new-age personal trainer, Bridesmaids co-writer Annie Mumolo as the sex-free-and-loving-it Barb, the excellent Chris O’Dowd as a the voice of reason at Pete’s record company and Melissa McCarthy as the mother of the abovementioned slighted 13-year-old who has her own unique encounter with their family when she runs into Pete at school. Debbie and Pete both have daddy issues – there’s Debbie’s estranged father played by John Lithgow and Pete’s more laidback but equally problematic father, played by Albert Brooks. Mothers aren’t in the picture – Debbie is the only mom around and she has issues so it’s probably best to not add to the mess.
Final Analysis: This Is 40 is good humoured, uncomfortable, impolite and even crude, but never mean-spirited. I’m not entirely sure the end was satisfactory and they really didn’t need the cheap shot at the Indian doctor’s accent/lisp. The movie delivered what the trailer promised and a lot more. Also it was cool to see Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong appear in a memorable cameo.
My Advice: Rent this movie as soon as you can (if you’re over 18, of course).