"This Is 40" Review: The Year's Ugliest, Most Honest and Least Romantic Romantic Comedy

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This Is 40 Review: The Year's Ugliest, Most Honest and Least Romantic Romantic Comedy

By Dustin Rowles | Film Reviews | December 24, 2012 | Comments ()


Judd Apatow's This Is 40 is a gangly mess, bloated, aimless, heartfelt and lovely. It's not a movie for everyone, and in fact, it may not be for many. Much of it spoke to me, some of it didn't; it was occasionally funny (especially the few scenes involving Melissa McCarthy), but mostly it was not; it was self-indulgent, sometimes boring, too long, incredibility repetitive, and often mundane. Most of the characters were jerks, but they felt like believable jerks, jerks grounded in reality. I feel like I know those people, like sometimes I am those people: A self-absorbed asshole who is too busy complaining about how miserable his life is to realize how perfect it has become. This Is 40, for all its warts and flaws, feels like life. Not necessarily my life, but a life adjacent to mine, one I could sympathize with, one I could often relate to, and one that I hated during the moments that I wasn't so in love with it. It's not the best movie of 2012 by a considerable margin, but it may be the most honest, often at the movie's expense.

There's not much story going on in This Is 40. It centers on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the married couple from Knocked Up, a few years removed from that experience. They haven't grown much; in fact, nearly two and a half hours after the movie begins, the characters have barely matured beyond where they began. But that's kind of the point of This Is 40: Married people bicker, they vow to change, they get frustrated with their inability to do so, and eventually resign to the fact that they are who they are. For some couples, they accept, adapt, and endure, while others become a casualty.

Paul's music label is struggling because he refuses to sell out, even when that refusal means losing his house. His financial problems are compounded by the fact that he's loaning thousands of dollars to his mooch of a father (Albert Brooks, who steals his every scene). His wife, Debbie, runs a retail clothing store they own, but one of the employees -- perhaps the one played by Megan Fox (who, like Jason Segel's character, is completely superflous to the movie) -- is stealing thousands of dollars, and neither Paul or Debbie have the courage to deal with the situation, so instead of confronting, they let it spiral.

Debbie is also reevaluating her own life at 40; she's determined to be a better, happier person, one who doesn't constantly argue with her husband, who has resorted to popping Viagra to keep their waning sex life from completely burning out. It's Debbie's inability to become the woman she wants to be that provides much of the conflict in This Is 40. She is her own antagonist, although Paul's inability to take responsibility for his own role doesn't help matters.

On top of all that, they have a moody teenage daughter, Sadie (Maude Apatow) whose obsession with "Lost" and a confused relationship with a kid at school is making her even more emotionally unstable. Sadie is taking her frustrations out on her little sister, Charlotte (Iris Apatow), and increasingly becoming a young, profanity-spewing version of her kvetching parents.

Debbie and Pete spend much of the movie blaming each other, blaming themselves, and blaming their parents for their problems, before eventually arriving at an epiphany, apologizing, and restarting the entire cycle all over again. In other words, there's is a typical marriage: Full of fits and starts, emotional highs and lows, malaise insecurity, and a deep, profound love for one another strong enough to survive it all. This Is 40 often feels like a cynical movie about two selfish jerks, and ultimately, it kind of is. But we can see ourselves in those jerks, and for those of us lucky enough, we can see through that morass of stress, complication, disappointment, and failure of their lives and our own, and hopefully extract the same goodness and hopefulness out of our marriages that Pete and Debbie can.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • BeauHajavitch

    One day every film made will feature either Leslie Mann, Clint Howard, or Jay and Silent Bob.

  • Spot on review. I give it points for being "real" and not trying to conform to movie tropes. But damn, even a cliche-hating/meta-loving person like me needs an arc, or at least better editing. I think I could have handled what I think is the point with not having an arc if they cut 15-30 minutes. I can see why the marketing for it was the way it was because you're right that this isn't for most people.

  • kirbyjay

    I'll watch it ( On Demand) for the Rudd. I'd watch anything for the Rudd

  • Strand

    As much as I like Apatow (the man will always get a free pass for Freaks and Geeks alone), the projects where he tries to cram in his family usually wind up the least appetising. Funny People was a self-indulgent and bloated mess.

  • Kballs

    The wife and I have been through some goofy shut the last decade and will not be seeing this. It`s like watching Big Fish as your own father wastes away from cancer. Or so I've heard . . .

  • e jerry powell

    So: more like a short story than a novel. (See also: Living Out Loud).

    Doesn't play to the broadest cinematic archetypes in that there's nothing overly exceptional about the characters; just people being people in pretty regular situations. Nothing particularly heightened about anything.

    Stuff people can easily identify with, and, as such, not something many people want to pay ten bucks to see. Which makes it exactly the kind of movie I want to watch. It's just so fucking credible.

  • Rubble44

    I have a theory about Judd Apatow's movies ..as he goes on...he has added his wife and daughters more into every film...and each film gets less and less funny and more and more annoying.

    I imagine his next "movie" will just be him running around with an I Phone, recording conversations with his kids and wife. It will be 4 hours and 34 minutes long.

  • Walter Ray Choi

    Sounds like the garden variety midlife jerk alright.

  • Mrs. Julien

    So is it Rich People's Problems? The commercials look like Rich People's Problems.

  • kirivinokur

    Is that a complaint? Because I feel like if you film a scene about someone finding movie subjects uninteresting would categorize that scene as RIch People's Problems.

  • Mrs. Julien

    It is a complaint. For me, "Rich People's Problems" means a movie featuring privileged people creating issues in their own lives without anything really being a stake. Woody Allen is their patron saint (Hannah and Her Sisters, for example). It is possible to create a movie where, despite personal largesse one can care about the protagonists. Ordinary People comes to mind. The Philadelphia Story features rich people you can care about. Even My Best Friend's Wedding kind of pulls it off. But don't show me rich people whinging about their circumstances when things are really quite straight forward. Films like I Don't Know How She Does It and, as is clear from my comment I suspect this one is too, simply reflect self-indulgent people making movies who are out of touch with the everyday world.

  • ,

    I thought that was WWPP, for Wealthy White People's Problems? At least that's what I was thinking while I was listening to an NPR interview with the people who make something called "Enlightened." in which the main character has a nervous breakdown and goes to Hawaii to learn meditation.

    Actually, in this case, since the main character is female, it was WWWP.

  • kirivinokur

    I'm not expecting this movie to be just about rich people whining about 'rich people's problems' with straightforward solutions, judging by what I've read about the movie, by interviews I've heard with Apatow, and by having seen Funny People. I'm expecting the movie to be about just what it hints at: life in your forties. Yes, it's life for economically-comfortable people in the forties, but these 'problems' (relating to sex life, work, kids/family, aging) I think comprise 'the everyday world' for quite a number of people making well below Apatow's take-home pay. It's a world I'm coming close to living in, and the fact that the subjects are not working class or dirt poor doesn't make those topics insubstantial or uninteresting. I think it's just as hairy to lump movies into a 'Rich People's Problems' bucket as it is to lump others into 'Poor People's Problems' bucket just based on how much the characters' presumed paygrades.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Oh sure, give a reasoned and researched response. I concede.

  • Idle Primate

    2 thumbs up for aplomb

  • malechai

    Does this mean being in your 40's is hip or in or something now? Because I'm 42 and I'd totally be down with that.

  • Cuca

    Yes, haven't you heard? 40 is the new 20! Or at least that is what I like to tell myself every time I start feeling older than the mountains...

  • TheAggroCraig

    If 40 is the new 20, what's 30 going to be? Do I have to go back to middle school?

  • ,

    In our case, at least, it gets better.

    Married 30 years.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Thirty years is a looooong time. Congratulations!

  • ,


    Not so long when, eventually, you begin to figure out that you married your best friend, though you certainly didn't know it at the time, back when it was all about the hornies.

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