Forty shades of lame

There’s misog­yny but few de­cent jokes in Judd Apa­tow’s sour com­edy, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - REVIEWS -

THIS IS 40 Di­rected by Judd Apa­tow. Star­ring Paul Rudd, Les­lie Mann, John Lith­gow, Me­gan Fox, Ja­son Segel, Chris O’Dowd, Al­bert Brooks

15A cert, gen­eral re­lease, 133 min

★ Judd Apa­tow’s last film, the end­less Funny Peo­ple, looked like a cin­e­matic ex­pres­sion of the di­rec­tor’s mid-life cri­sis. The good news is that he has moved on. This

Is 40 ap­pears to con­cern his wife’s mid-life cri­sis.

You will, on ev­ery sec­ond bus, have seen an im­age de­pict­ing Les­lie Mann (the real Mrs Apa­tow) scowl­ing bit­terly at Paul Rudd who, while seated on the lava­tory, sourly op­er­ates an iPad. We can’t ac­cuse the dis­trib­u­tors of mis­rep­re­sent­ing the film.

Clock­ing in at an ab­surd 133 min­utes, this al­leged com­edy com­prises a random ar­range­ment

of in­creas­ingly em­bar­rass­ing mar­i­tal squab­bles in­ter­spersed with minute out­breaks of worth­while ob­ser­va­tional hu­mour. It is, in its qui­eter way, more point­lessly in­dul­gent than The Ma­trix


Apa­tow might ar­gue (though he prob­a­bly doesn’t) that Rudd is not stand­ing in for the di­rec­tor. Given that the rest of the fam­ily – the Apa­tow chil­dren play surly off­spring – are all on board, this the­sis is hardly worth con­sid­er­ing. Couldn’t they have all vis­ited Dr Phil and spared cin­ema­go­ers this grue­some un­veil­ing of their emo­tional in­nards?

We be­gin with Ms Mann fail­ing to face up to the ar­rival of her fifth decade. She lies about her age. She pre­var­i­cates about party ar­range­ments. She spends a night on the town. Mean­while, Rudd – man­ager of a fail­ing record com­pany – acts out var­i­ous tired rou­tines from Nick Hornby’s mid-1990s playbook. His fa­ther (Al­bert Brooks), a late con­vert to in-vitro fer­til­i­sa­tion, copes badly with a gang of ter­ri­fy­ing blonde chil­dren. At the of­fice, Rudd strug­gles to sell post-punk troubadour Gra­ham Parker (ask your dad, kids) to largely un­in­ter­ested record buy­ers.

The film of­fers am­ple ev­i­dence of Apa­tow’s skewed take on gen­der re­la­tions. Since he broke ground as a di­rec­tor with the un­pre­ten­tious, prop­erly funny 40-Year Old Vir­gin, he has been mak­ing the case for men as use­less layabouts and women as re­spon­si­ble real­ists. Sure enough, while Mann does the dirty work about home, Rudd squan­ders money on trin­kets, ex­er­cises ju­ve­nile fan­tasies, and trades child­ish quips with equally rud­der­less male chums.

On the sur­face, then, This Is 40 sounds like a fem­i­nist piece. The prob­lem, how­ever, is that the women al­ways emerge as ag­gres­sive shrews while the men come across like charm­ing ado­les­cents who can’t fight their own silli­ness. It’s mostly a ques­tion of tone. Rudd is per­mit­ted a bum­bling charm. Mann is armed with shrill barbs, fur­rowed scowls and ear-pierc­ing shrieks. The misog­yny is, per­haps, en­tirely ac­ci­den­tal. But it’s there for all to see.

The shame is that, ev­ery now and then, the pic­ture hap­pens upon some ex­cel­lent lines. Brooks gets some laughs from his ex­tended cameo and Chris O’Dowd, play­ing Rudd’s sec­ond in com­mand, won­ders why his boss wasted money on a neon sign. “And it’s in­side!” he says, point­ing to the il­lu­mi­nated logo. “We know where we work!”

If only Apa­tow – here de­liv­er­ing

a vague se­quel to Knocked Up – had man­aged to in­cor­po­rate th­ese oc­ca­sional high­lights into some­thing that looked like a film. Some time ago, as one of the tal­ents be­hind An­chor­man: The Le­gend of

Ron Bur­gundy, Judd man­aged to knock to­gether out­takes into a self-con­tained sec­ond fea­ture for the DVD re­lease. This Is 40 plays as if it were as­sem­bled in sim­i­lar fash­ion (dur­ing the mak­ing of a film no­body sane would want to see).

We could lose the bit where the guys ogle Me­gan Fox. We could lose the scenes with John Lith­gow as Mann’s dis­tant dad. We could lose the se­quences where she carouses with ice-hockey play­ers. Heck, we could lose the whole thing. Ev­ery­thing in This Is 40 is ex­tra­ne­ous. Noth­ing is, well, tra­ne­ous.

Is that a word? Never mind.You get the drift.

We don’t talk any­more: Les­lie Mann & Paul Rudd get it all out in This Is 40

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