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Review: This Is 40

REVIEWS - MOVIES

An atypically mature film from Judd Apatow. Maturity? This...Is...40!

Review: This is 40...

Laughing at the cinema has been rare so far this year. There have been comedies released that have failed on all counts to raise a laugh (May I Kill U? and Movie 43) and there have been other films such as Django Unchained that have had funny bits in them. But an actual comedy film with plenty of laugh out loud moments has not graced our cinema screens. Until now....

With I Give It A Year last week - and now This Is 40 on Valentine’s Day - 2013 can finally breathe after the onslaught of worthy Oscar bait.

It’s been three years since Judd Apatow directed a feature film – he’s been busy producing everything from Bridesmaids to HBO smash Girls – and he appears to have matured a little. Gone are the stoner and pink-eye jokes of Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin; instead we have sly, witty observations of everyday family life. Three years ago Apatow tried making a more serious film with Funny People, which polarised audiences. Those that went in expecting more silliness were let down, and those expecting adult laughs didn’t find many. It may have been a more personal film but no one really cared about the lives of mopey stand-up comedians, especially in a movie two and a half hours long and light on belly laughs. This Is 40, however, combines personal film-making with jokes galore.

Review: This is 40...Whereas Knocked Up focused on the initial stages of a relationship through to the birth of a child, This Is 40 focuses on a short period in a slightly more experienced family’s life. As a family man himself, Apatow has clearly been influenced by his experience at home as a husband and father and this is evident on screen. Casting his wife and daughters as a fictional family with Paul Rudd in Knocked Up was fun, although they were a very minor part of that film, so it is great to see them being given a whole film in which to showcase their abilities. The kids have grown into funny, decent little actresses, while Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann have great chemistry and provide a hilarious centre around which many family-based observational jokes revolve.

In the past, Apatow’s films have been labelled misogynist, with even Knocked Up’s female star Katherine Heigl describing the movie as sexist. This time round, however, both women and men are seen at times to be fun, angry, bitchy, stupid, loving and flawed. As I’m sure any parent approaching the big 4-0 will attest, family life – and the realisation that you are perhaps not so young anymore – can be daunting, and this is wonderfully portrayed in the film. Pete (Rudd) shows all the signs of going through every man’s dream mid-life crisis, quickly running his own record company into the ground through passion for music but a lack of understanding of key business ideas. He also invariably comes across as a sad man and is described by his wife as looking like a ‘paedophile’. Debbie (Mann) also tries her hardest to keep her business afloat while unknowingly employing a thief and struggling to raise two girls and a husband who likes to gorge on cupcakes. Both parents have plenty on their plate, and the humour derived from their attempts to juggle home, school and work life will resonate with any audience.

Review: This is 40...Hilarity comes thick and fast throughout, from pop culture jokes about teens watching Lost on their iPads, to doctors with lisps, to defensive parents. Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy pops up as the mother of a Tom Petty look-a-like child and delivers another hilarious performance in a stand-out scene in the principal’s office that had so much funny material cut out of it, they played it all over the credits. This method of working, whereby Apatow sets a scene and lets the actors improvise for however long they like, more often than not works a treat and provides plenty of material for the film and the DVD extras (see Ken Jeong on the Knocked Up DVD); but also means that the film gets longer and other stuff has to be cut. This may be the reason that Megan Fox and Charlene Yi’s plot appears to go nowhere. Fox is once again used as eye candy, but this time in a way that enables Apatow to bring out the insecurities of his female lead. Yi, on the other hand, does virtually nothing except raise a few laughs while she is under the influence.

Other interesting performances come courtesy of Albert Brooks and the great John Lithgow as two very different grandfathers. Anyone who’s seen Weeds on TV will recognise Brooks’ character of Larry as a carbon copy of Lenny Botwin, but that’s not to say the character isn’t still great fun. Brooks strolls in and out of scenes like he owns them, constantly emotionally blackmailing his son into giving him money even when the family are in dire straits. Funny and sad, Rudd and Brooks’ relationship seems genuine, as does Lithgow and Mann’s. As Debbie’s estranged father, Lithgow brings a different kind of emotional weight to the film, and while his storyline doesn’t tie up neatly at the end (like many Hollywood movies), it works perfectly as an example of how complex familial love can be.

As a snapshot of one moment in a family’s life, This Is 40 succeeds in delivering real-life situations and experiences in a hilarious and often touching way. Loose ends are left open, as life so rarely offers the opportunity for things to be resolved easily, and it is this focus on reality that makes the film work. While the jobs that Pete and Debbie hold may be at the slightly more profitable end of the spectrum, this fact never takes away from the genuine troubles and tribulations that the family have to overcome. Everyone will have either been through or witnessed what each family member has to deal with, and as such the film resonates with a wider audience than, say, the middle-aged man of The 40 Year Old Virgin. Judd Apatow has grown up, and as such has made his most accessible film to date.

4 stars

Director: Judd Apatow
Release Date: 14th February
Running Time: 134 mins approx
Certificate: 15


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