Movie Review: This is 40- Apatow’s Personal Therapy Session is Mildly Humorous but Lacks Legitimate Purpose

this-is-40-opening-soon-f-88944There is no doubting just how difficult comedy is as a genre for the movies and could be considered the hardest genre to pull off successfully. Making personal, outlandish, or even plain gross situations humorous to a mass audience is no easy task but director Judd Apatow has made a career at writing, directing, and producing comedy that more often than not hits us just right. Judd Apatow has been so successful at cinematic comedy that his chosen formula of delivery and particular style has been given the term “Apatovian,” and most films follow his lead in this genre. But sometimes creators can get too close to their work and the benefits of having a critical outside voice can keep them grounded, focused, and choose the right material to best implement their work. In the case of Apatow’s newest film This is 40 it’s clear he’s too close to the material as he uses his own family as a surrogate for personal therapy and barrages you with cleverness and humor that isn’t always coherent nor lasting. Typically when a writer/director begins to have full control of his own films via producing them they usually become projects of self-indulgence and Judd Apatow with This is 40 is no exception. To be fair the film is filled to the brim with clever jokes, turn of phrases, and even tones down the vulgarity that is usually in his films for a shot at more personalized and authentic comedy much like his last feature Funny People. Because Apatow is the prominent voice of comedy in Hollywood today and we’ve expected a level of consistent quality from him This is 40 just becomes a great disappointment in the end. Inside this overly long film are great ideas and humorous observations about family, aging, and life but as a whole the film is incredibly messy and drastically inconsistent. With comedy your personal observations must be relevant and translate well to connect with a wider audience but sometimes people can be a bit too self-observant for it to be relatable at all.

This is 40 acts as a sort of sequel to a previous Apatow film Knocked Up, following Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) as they struggle with finances, their children, their jobs, and their extended families. Taking place in the restricted timeline of a week in this family’s lives the film compresses a great deal of exposition, character introduction, and plot deviations that all seem a bit rushed even though the film doesn’t feel rushed at all in its over two hour running time. Jumping from scenario to scenario and character to character throughout This is 40 always attempts to be humorous, but the process of getting to know these characters and all of their loudly stated personality traits becomes tiresome especially in the latter hour plus of the film. Apatow has definitely found some inspiration in his home life to fill this movie to the brim with clever jokes, observations, and manipulations of common perception but sometimes you can be too clever for your own good. While most of the film’s intention is to be relatable to the mass majority of audiences in its raw, authentic reflection on home life it becomes a bit too specific and alienating for it to be both fully captivating and humorous. However, when the film does indeed focus on the intimate issues of the core family in its rarest of moments then it really is at its strength, especially in relation to the two daughters. Overall the script is probably the root problem for This is 40 because while it is funny in numerous parts they are in between long drawn out parts and most of the jokes are for the sake of cleverness itself rather than obtaining a goal of purpose. Perhaps Apatow is being self-referential that life itself is a bit of a mess and the script attempts to reflect that very message but that wouldn’t explain why the whole film feels strained of any consistent, overarching purpose.

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Judd Apatow’s filming style took a different direction with his last feature Funny People because it just seemed more elegant and crystal clear in image as compared to The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. It’s almost as if Apatow wants to become the Bob Fosse of comedy with his All That Jazz references and sweeping camera movements, including some slow motion bits. There is definitely a technical grace to This is 40 but almost to its detriment. Clarity of image should usually compliment the film’s tone and while comedy is incredibly lighthearted there are a great deal of dramatic moments filling up the core intimacy of This is 40. It’s almost as if Apatow wants to desperately move into dramatic storytelling but is restricted from doing so based on his previous and continued success in comedy (that is pure speculation). And even though the graceful camera movements and delicately chosen shots are well done by cinematographer Phedon Papamichael there is a great disconnect from the elegance of image from the grittiness that is family life. It just becomes a bit noticeable in its disjointed delivery. Perhaps criticizing camera placements and camera elegance is a bit much especially for a comedy but it worked so well in his last film Funny People. And it may come as a surprise that not only did Judd Apatow have an editor on This is 40 but he actually had three editors (David L. Bertman, Jay Deuby, and Brent White). It’s difficult to explain how this film’s last half hour drags at an ungodly pace when you had three editors at your disposal to fix this problem. Luckily the strong suit of any Apatow film is the cast and most of them deliver solid performances that make it relatively humorous experience if not tonally accurate or purposefully comedic.

Apatow’s best decision about making this film is in relation to the casting of his wife Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd in the lead roles. Sure it’s based on their roles in Knocked Up but choosing those two characters for their own story wasn’t a bad idea in development, just ultimately in execution. No matter how many films Paul Rudd shows up in there is just something about his charisma and personality that is always agreeable. He balances affable husband with frustrated career idealist incredibly well and is always able to provide a vast display of facial expressions that provide more comedic value than almost any of the words coming out of his mouth. Leslie Mann is obviously Apatow’s muse in the same sense that Helena Bonham Carter is Tim Burton’s. She has had smaller parts in Apatow films past but this time she is the lead of the entire film and she brings a delicate sensibility to her role mostly because it’s completely based on her real experiences and emotions. However, it is Apatow’s actual daughters Maude and Iris who are exceptionally charming and authentic even if their dialogue at times seems a bit too clever for their age (but this could just be an Apatow family trait). Of course most of the select guest appearances work, such as John Lithgow, Chris O’Dowd, and Megan Fox (did I just compliment Megan Fox?) but it’s the great Albert Brooks who clearly has the best moments and one liners. Overall the cast is charming, humorous, and possess personality beyond typical archetypes giving This is 40 at least a basic foundation of likability.

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Judd Apatow has made his mark on comedy from being involved early on as a writer for “The Larry Sanders Show” to exploding the “Apatovian” comedy movement this past decade with fan favorites, such as The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. It wasn’t until he did the extremely underrated comedy Funny People that Apatow showed he understood some dramatic complexities to characters and he tries to utilize that same rhythm with This is 40 but it doesn’t hold up. There are genuinely funny moments throughout This is 40 but overall the film seems strained of purpose and tests your endurance with its running time beyond two hours. It’s definitely clear that Apatow was not only too close to his subject matter on this film to remain grounded and focused but he also lacked a solid producer willing to tell him when things weren’t working. This is 40 is not exactly a full comedy film but rather a self-indulgent therapy session that explores the mind of an incredibly observant comedic filmmaker and his complex family life. There are memorable moments sporadically placed throughout the film and there is no doubting the cleverness of the writing. Perhaps this is a moment of growth for Apatow to cleanse himself of the heaviness of family drama in a comedic way and while we should look forward to what comes next it doesn’t mean this current film is worth experiencing.

Grade: C+

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One Response to “Movie Review: This is 40- Apatow’s Personal Therapy Session is Mildly Humorous but Lacks Legitimate Purpose”
  1. Good review! Will you check out my blog sometime? I too write movie reviews on wordpress.

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