By: Addison Wylie
I would love to see what writer/director Judd Apatow could do with a film that punches out after 90 minutes – including credits. This Is 40 starts out strong and funny, but is then torpedoed by needless subplots that are tediously stretched out causing the runtime to slowly expand.
Apatow has shown with his previous directorial work that he loves to let his material breathe. Not in a pretentious way, but in a leisurely manner that allows his characters to have full-fledged arcs without taking shortcuts.
Take our returning characters from 2007’s comedy hit Knocked Up. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann pick up the roles of Pete and Debbie flawlessly. With initial scenes celebrating Debbie’s 40th birthday with Pete along with daughters Sadie and Charlotte (played by Apatow and Mann’s real-life children Maude and Iris Apatow, also picking up their roles from Knocked Up), we see how this family is still using laughter and wisecracks to keep life fresh.
While Pete goes through his own issues dealing with his troubling music industry and financial conundrums, Debbie is the one who goes through the more prominent arc – dealing with growing older.
As we saw in Knocked Up in a memorable scene where Mann and Katherine Heigl try to get into a trendy club, Debbie is not fond of being reminded what age she is. Turning 40 almost seems like the end of the world for this earnest Mom.
In This Is 40, Mann talks with fellow parents and attends routine medical check-ups. Instead of taking these moments at face value, she always finds a way to associate them with growing older. Even when she’s not dissecting, it’s hard to ignore obvious reminders when an elderly Mother explains that “it’s as if she blinked and, all of a sudden, 40 was 90”.
The worries of growing older and balancing work with family is an interesting set of problems that guide This Is 40 on a somewhat successful track. Mann and Rudd play off on one another greatly and are able to deliver lines legitimately and even improvise well.
However, Apatow, with the help of his three editors, are up to their usual game and sometimes let the improvised dialogue drive the movie causing the pace to meander.
Movie goers who are married or, at least, in a relationship will be able to relate to some, if not all, of the arguments Pete and Debbie have. This generates most of the honest hilarity during these exchanges.
Not to worry, single men and women. There are jokes in here for you too.
The banter relating to generational differences are the best stabs in Apatow’s dramedy. Pete is almost always talking about niche bands while Debbie and the kids dance happily to “shallow dance music” (Pete’s words, though it’s not hard to agree). A scene where the two teams showcase their dances to a favourite tune of theirs is a hilarious highlight.
That said, there is a lot of arguing, whining, screaming, yelling, and bickering that happens in This Is 40. While it’s funny and relatable for the first bit, all this loudness ultimately adds up to material that’s less-than-interesting. The laughs dwindle and eventually the reaction to most of the jokes will consist of audiences shrugging and saying to themselves, “yeah, I suppose life is (or could be) like that”.
I was aware of This Is 40’s 2 hour and 13 minute runtime going into the theatre. Being a returning fan of Apatow, I know his film’s aren’t exactly “quick breezes”. Which is why I was surprised when the problems were being wrapped up and characters started hugging and laughing, the film felt like it had “blown by”.
As I was ready to check out and await the last shot of the film, I looked at my watch and realized This Is 40 still had an hour left in it’s meaty runtime.
Why? Everything is wrapping up nicely! Suddenly a character says something that irritates other characters. We have other characters tripping over their words as they begin to back-peddle out of what they propose. Prior complications are brought back to the table and our leads must argue some more and throw more tantrums. New cans of worms were being cracked open and I began slinking in my seat – trying to get comfortable again.
This dramedy runs waaaaaay too long. This should be used as an example for filmmakers who think they can make long-running comedies as well. An example that states, “even the best of the best can overstay their welcome”.
This Is 40 goes from a worthy recommendation to an unforgiving exercise that will turn any patient patron into a fidgety wreck. Authenticity turns into absurdity, the bickering becomes bludgeoning, and all comedic credibility leaves with a quick “adieu”.
Iris Apatow and Albert Brooks (who plays Pete’s grumpy Father) deliver two lines that speak volumes about Apatow’s latest. Iris proclaims, “I’m sick of everyone arguing.” while Brooks (in a tense scene of turmoil) peevishly asks, “we were wanting to leave. Is this a good moment to do that?”. Amen!