Screaming subs for comedy in Judd Apatow’s ‘This Is 40’
BY RICHARD ROEPER SUN-TIMES COLUMNIST December 20, 2012 4:42PM
‘THIS IS 40’ ★★½
Pete Paul Rudd
Debbie Leslie Mann
Larry Albert Brooks
Catherine Melissa McCarthy
Jason Jason Segel
Oliver John Lithgow
Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by Judd Apatow. Running time: 134 minues. Rated R (for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug-related material). Opening Friday at local theaters.
Updated: January 22, 2013 6:20AM
If “This Is 40” isn’t the first film to highlight a certain 21st century behavior trend, it’s the certainly the first to explore it in such detail.
I speak of the iPad in the bathroom.
Doesn’t have to be an iPad, though, that’s the device that Pete (Paul Rudd) cradles as he grabs some precious alone time in a house dominated by his opinionated wife and two vocal daughters. (Not that his plan works very well, what with his wife barging in all the time. Lock the door, buddy!) But whether it’s a Nook or a Kindle, an iPhone or a Droid, for a lot of men (and yes, some women), the bathroom newspaper is a thing of the past.
Think about that the next time some guy tries to hand you his iPad to show off the latest app.
In the little details like those bathroom scenes, “This Is 40” gets it just right. As the amiable goof Pete, Rudd is the cinematic stand-in of sorts for writer-director Judd Apatow, with Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann playing Pete’s wife, Debbie, and the Apatows’ daughters Maude and Iris playing daughters Sadie and Charlotte, respectively. As this nuclear unit goes about its daily business, with the adults jabbing each other over financial issues and family problems, and the girls getting caught up in their own mini-dramas, it all feels very natural and occasionally quite funny.
The problem is the fight scenes — and oh, are there are fight scenes — also come across as authentic, and that doesn’t make for good comedy. It makes for the movie equivalent of meeting a couple for dinner, enduring two hours of bickering, driving home and saying, “We HAVE to stop hanging around with them. It’s the same thing every time.” There’s such meanness in the fighting.
“This Is 40” isn’t a sequel to “Knocked Up,” but it takes the hilarious couple played by Rudd and Mann and their two girls, and moves them front and center. (Other than a photo of Katherine Heigl on the wall, there’s no appearance by, nor mention of, Heigl’s Alison, Seth Rogen’s Ben or their child, even though Alison and Debbie are sisters. Perhaps Ben and Alison have stopped visiting this family because of all the tension in the house.)
Rudd and Mann are two of my favorite comedic actors, and they do have a comfortable chemistry together, yielding some spectacular comedic moments. At times “This Is 40” is brutally funny and brutally honest. Just as often, it’s painfully shrill and unpleasant. Albert Brooks is wonderful as Pete’s ever-mooching dad, but John Lithgow gives a strange performance in a weird role as Debbie’s mostly absentee father. Megan Fox is funny and sexy as Debbie’s co-worker, who’s got a LOT going on in her personal life, and Melissa McCarthy has the best scene as an apparently insane mother who threatens Pete and Debbie in ways you can’t imagine. Other supporting characters, however, are underwritten or just weird for the sake of being weird. (The semi-doughy Jason Segel as a body-sculpting trainer? Huh?)
And the running subplot about veteran rocker Graham Parker (as Graham Parker) is just a wheel-spinner that stops the movie cold.
There’s so much vitriol, so much over-the-top yelling and screaming in that household that you actually begin rooting for the parents to divorce, if only for the sake of the kids. Pete and Debbie bring out the worst in each other far more often than they help each other shine. That’s depressing in a comedy.
The running time for “This Is 40” is 134 minutes. That’s ridiculous. That’s only a little less time than it takes “Zero Dark Thirty” to encapsulate a nearly decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. If this film had trimmed a half-dozen supporting characters and given us characters who were just a little more sympathetic, who knows. But that’s another movie.