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.