19 December 2012

This is 40

Paul Rudd, left, and Leslie Mann are shown in a scene from "This is 40."

Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the married couple we met five years ago in "Knocked Up," aren't always 100 percent honest with each other. They aren't guilty of lying as much as they are of omitting—Pete eats an extra cupcake, Debbie enjoys an occasional cigarette, Pete misses a mortgage payment due to his floundering record company. Not all omissions are created equal.

But their love runs deep, feels real, and even as they endlessly bicker and see their very different interests pulling them apart, it feels as though that bond, a connection that is not rational or explainable, will see them through it—not in a way that is trite or predictable, but in a manner that says these people are right for each other, and smart and mature enough to figure out how to make it work.

"This is 40," from writer-director Judd Apatow, deals head-on with the issues of the transition from young adulthood to middle age, of marriage, of being a parent, of coming to the realization that responsibility is not something that will go away. And it does so in a way that is often hilarious and always honest.

Lacking a strong narrative spine, it's a hard film to sum up quickly, and with humor that flows naturally from the characters and where they are in their lives instead of relying on punchlines and pratfalls, it's not an easy sell.

It's a mature picture, something Apatow has been working toward throughout his career after spending time on TV in high school ("Freaks and Geeks") and college ("Undeclared"), and then in the movies dealing with a man having sex for the first time ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), pregnancy ("Knocked Up") and staring death in the eye at a relatively young age ("Funny People").

"This is 40" is a family affair for Apatow: Mann is his real-life wife, and their children, Maude and Iris Apatow (reprising their "Knocked Up" roles), play Pete and Debbie's kids, Sadie and Charlotte, respectively.
From left, Iris Apatow, Maude Apatwo, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are shown in a scene from "This is 40."
Stress is getting to both Pete and Debbie as they both hit the big 4-0 in the same week. Pete's financial troubles might force them to sell their house. He's pinning all his hopes on a new album by musician Graham Parker, who hasn't had a hit in decades. Debbie, who runs a clothing boutique, knows one of two employees, Jodi (Charlyne Yi) or Desi (a surprisingly funny Megan Fox), has stolen $12,000 from her.

Pete also continues to give money to his mooch of a father (Albert Brooks), while Debbie barely knows her dad (John Lithgow), who walked out on her when she was 8.

Rudd, one of our best comic actors and underrated as a dramatic performer, is at his best here, conveying Pete's frustration and anxiety, but also his love for and commitment to his family. Mann, something of a weak link in Apatow's other films, holds her own as Debbie experiences a similar range of emotions.

With their small roles, Apatow uses Brooks and Lithgow as his secret weapons, while Jason Segel, also returning from "Knocked Up," provides a few good laughs as Debbie's personal trainer—fingers crossed for a "Bodies by Jason" spin-off. (There is, however, no mention of the characters played by Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in "Knocked Up.")

The fine supporting cast runs even deeper than that, with Chris O'Dowd and Lena Dunham as Pete's employees, and Michael Ian Black as his accountant.

Visually, there is nothing to speak of here, but that is not what Apatow is about as a filmmaker. People, their lives and relationships interest him, and though most of us aren't as funny as his characters, he tells their stories with uncanny truth. He's reached a new level of authenticity with "This is 40," his finest movie yet and one of the year's best.

Greg's Grade: A

(Rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material. 134 minutes.)

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