Thursday, December 13, 2012
A Review of "This is 40" (Not to to be Confused with "This is 35," Also Known as "Knocked Up")
Debbie and Pete (Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd), the scene-stealing couple from 2009's Knocked Up, pick things up right where they left off--spewing one hilariously bitter one liner after another at each other--in writer/director Judd Apatow's follow-up film, This is 40. But aside from catching up with the wacky pair in their own spinoff movie, and with just a few years separating the two films, the film seems more like an expansion of the first movie rather than a separate film altogether.
Though Apatow himself has emphatically stated that "this isn't a sequel," you can't help but wonder what makes it otherwise. Aside from the absence of the two lead characters from the first film (played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl), this is pretty much the pair's exact same story from the previous movie. Debbie is annoyed with everything Pete does (or doesn't) do, which includes his performance in bed. Pete just wants more "me" time to make something more out of his indie rock career at it comes to a crossroad, and to stay on his wife's good side (as soon as she gets one). And their kids are still unruly brats. The only teeny difference here is that they're struggling with all these things as they now approach middle age (otherwise known here as 40), and as their kids are entering puberty. It's like if Knocked Up was instead titled This is 35, and This is 40 were chapter two. It's just redundant.
But the film still moves along as Debbie and Pete prepare to celebrate (and, in Debbie's case, not celebrate) their 40th birthdays. Debbie is in denial of her age, which causes her to have a total breakdown and lash out at everyone, including her children's innocent classmates. And if you've seen Knocked Up, then you already know that Debbie's temper tantrums can be pretty glorious to watch. They're just so random and vile.
This time she's also added to her hit list Desi (Megan Fox), the scantily-clad associate who works at her store (of whom she may or may not be jealous). Think of Desi as the "pissy little high school c*nt" that Debbie bemoaned in Knocked Up. Except that she's not in high school and she's not at all pissy, which obviously makes her more despicable to Debbie.
Back at home, Debbie and Pete, under Debbie's orders, try to reorganize their life to become the mature aging adults by removing Pete's still-procreating dad (Albert Brooks) from their expenses, eating better, and spending more time together as a family. This of course sends the kids and Pete into a tailspin, especially when Debbie bans the use of electronic devices during certain times of the day, a demand which turns their daughter Sadie (Maude Apatow) into a belligerent teenager.
But even with the efforts to progress the conflict of the characters, This is 40 still comes off as a repeat episode of Knocked Up. It also rides more on the comedy shtick between Debbie and Pete and less on developing an actual story about them, which is unfortunate. Although Debbie and Pete are wildly entertaining to watch as they fumble toward their birthdays, it would have been nice to see a curve in their characters so that they didn't come off as mere sitcom characters going through a rough patch. These fine actors could have certainly handled that challenge.
Also, the last thirty minutes of the film really flew off the rails, and not in a good way. For some reason decided to make the third act less about the couple and more about their fathers, pinpointing them as the source of all their problems. John Lithgow, who played Debbie father, was most awkward not in performance but in the fact that his storyline seemed tacked on and heavy where it wasn't needed. Near the conclusion of a film it's never wise to add a new story element and conflict; it's almost always going to seem rushed and unresolved by the end. This is exactly what happens here.
Otherwise, audiences will love to see Debbie and Pete rekindle their year-long marital bliss filled with tough love and harsh realities. Mann and Rudd's chemistry together should be bottled and sold; they both match each other's penchant for sarcasm, sharp wit and raunchy humor. With an ending that leaves it open for another continuation of the Pete and Debbie saga, if This is 40 does well audiences should be prepared to see a This is 45 in five years.
This is 40 hits theaters December 21st.