Written and directed by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin, Funny People), This is 40 follows married couple Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd), first introduced in Apatow’s 2007 hit, Knocked Up. We re-visit them on the morning of Debbie’s 40th birthday – and the film concludes with a party to celebrate Pete’s 40th – and traverses their marriage, their relationships with their family and their tumultuous personal lives over a number of weeks, revealing they are in serious turmoil. Offering up consistent laughs, courtesy of the intelligent writing and excellent performances from the two leads and an ensemble of hilarious cameos, This is 40 also whacks an emotional punch, honestly stripping back this marriage to the roots of the problems, and challenging the characters to face them and find mature solutions.
Mann and Rudd are fantastic as usual; their chemistry could not be better. Further aiding the believability of the family dynamic is Apatow’s casting of his two daughters alongside of his wife (Mann). But it is the host of cameos, all portraying unique and interesting individuals, which take this to the next level. Like all of Apatow’s films the cast of recognizable faces run deep and they have a habit of popping up unexpectedly. Megan Fox, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Chris O’ Dowd, Jason Segel, Robert Smigel and Melissa McCarthy all have moments – with Brooks and Lithgow particularly impressive in larger roles as Pete and Debbie’s respective fathers.
The second half takes a direction toward understanding the effect these men have had on their children and ultimately the couple begins to find relief in the possibility that their problems could be due to someone else. O’ Dowd continues to prove his is one of the best comedic actors in the business, following scene-stealing work in Bridesmaids and The Sapphires, while Fox provides what is surely some of her best work as a sultry employee of Debbie who provides timely wisdom.
At 134 minutes, which will understandably be deemed overlong by many viewers, Apatow continues to break comedy boundaries with his runtimes. Surprisingly, I had no issues with the length and enjoyed spending time with these characters. There are more than enough moving and emotionally involving moments to justify it, especially considering how intimate the study is and how broadly it tackles the pressures that modern families face on a daily basis.
‘This is 40’ is uproariously funny, but it works dramatically as an honest and intimate look at contemporary relationships and how overcoming the pressures of life – aging, health scares, a stressed financial situation, general satisfaction and happiness, misguided teenagers – affects a couple who have hit a psychological age barrier and watched their sense of youth disappear. They are struggling to process their mounting responsibilities and rediscover their love for one another that has begun to dissipate.
While ‘The 40-Year Old Virgin’ and ‘Knocked Up’, especially, have since become modern comedy classics, one can easily argue that Apatow has topped himself again with this gem.
Andrew Buckle – follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22