‘This Is 40’ forces in plenty of jokes
Debbie, meanwhile, refuses to accept her aging for different reasons. She makes her family put a “38” candle on her birthday cake and lies to her doctors and nurses about her age. But if they are going to face the inevitable, Debbie wants Pete to join her in what are supposed to be the best years of their lives. She has made a list of the things they need to work on to increase their intimacy and improve their relationship. Pete responds with indifference to her self-help doctrine, and you can feel the tensions simmering.
Those tensions and the way the couple talk about them — comically and seriously — give the movie its heart, but Apatow is easily distracted by the desire to cram in more jokes. There are the technology-addicted and addled daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (played by Apatow and Mann’s precocious children Maude and Iris); there is the subplot of employees (Charlyne Yi and Megan Fox) at Debbie’s store stealing from the register; and there is the thread that follows indie record label owner Pete as he tries to revive the career of Graham Parker.
When Pete talks to his friend Barry (Robert Smigel) about the fantasy of his wife dying so that he may start a new life as a widower, he is only halfkidding. And the story gets to the heart of the couple’s troubles. After all these years, maybe they simply don’t like each other as much as they once did. Maybe the marriage has become more of a yoke and less of a buoy. Pete and Debbie acknowledge this in some stirring outbursts, but the issues that arise are soon dismissed for another tangent or resolved with a kicker joke to the end scene, a device repeated throughout the movie.
The most tiresome part of the story is trying to muster the energy to feel bad (or good) for Pete and Debbie. While rich people deserve sympathy as much as anyone, seeing a couple in a multimillion-dollar home and complaining about financial troubles while constantly bickering with one another can be exhausting instead of relatable. The tone is made even more confused by the fact that Mann and Rudd (and Apatow) are all extremely likable, making the enterprise feel like an elaborate put-on and a sendup of upper-class Brentwood neuroses and less of a nuanced portrait of the difficulties of maintaining a family.
Two subplots, however, add dimension to the couples’ troubles. Pete has to suffer through his dad’s self-pity and freeloading, while Debbie attempts to connect with an aloof father ( John Lithgow in strong, deadpan elitist form) whom she has not seen in seven years. Unfortunately, those storylines get rushed into a sloppy resolution near the end.
“This Is 40” does have some memorable comedic sequences, two of the best involving Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”) as the mother of one of Sadie’s schoolmates, and satiric jabs at selfinvolved post-punk yuppies land with deftness. The ambling structure of the film feels suitable for a movie that plays like a big-budget home production (complete with the entire Apatow clan), but all of the meandering and shoehorned jokes and oneliners contrast with that realistic tone. The movie may be Apatow’s most personal, but it’s also his most unwieldy. Life may have room for this many obsessions, fights, tangential ideas, insecurities, immature jokes and random characters, but great movies rarely do.
Rating: R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material. Running time: 2 hours, 14 minutes. Theaters: Alamo Slaughter, Alamo Village, Barton Creek, Cinemark Cedar Park, Cinemark Galleria, Cinemark Round Rock, Cinemark Stone Hill, Cinemark Southpark Meadows, City Lights, Flix Brewhouse, Gateway, Galaxy Moviehouse, Highland, Starplex, Tinseltown Pflugerville, Tinseltown South, Westgate.