This is 40 is being described as the sort of sequel to 2007’s Knocked Up in that the central characters first appeared in that movie. Besides that there is little to connect the stories of the two films although the early mid life crisis that Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) found themselves entering five years ago are now fully formed. Debbie and Paul are a married couple on the cusp of their fortieth birthdays. Their two children (played by Mann’s and Writer/Director Judd Apatow’s real children Maude and Iris) are finding it difficult to get along and both parents are in turn having problems with their own fathers. In the background is a financial noose which threatens to envelop their necks at any time.
I believe that This is 40 contains some of Judd Apatow’s best writing to date. This might not sound like much of a compliment considering his writing credits have included You Don’t Mess with the Zohan and Funny People but in amongst the poorer stuff, Apatow has written some very good comedy. This is 40 is not only very funny but also sweet and contains a lot of realistic relationship talk, arguments and situations.
At the centre of the film are two actors that have undeniable chemistry. It was obvious during Knocked Up when you wanted to stay with their side plot rather than the main story and it isn’t surprising the couple got a spin off. The characters are realistic and well written and the actors do a fine job with them. I think that Paul Rudd is an underrated actor as well as an underrated comic actor. He has provided some of the biggest laughs in hits like Anchorman and The 40 Year old Virgin and has been the best thing in terrible films like Wanderlust. Here he has a little more depth than usual and it looks as though his heart is in the character. Leslie Mann on the other hand is an actress who I don’t particularly rate although she plays Debbie well. When left on her own she sucks some of the life out of the film but when onscreen with Judd, both become charismatic and very watchable. Leslie Mann, it should also be said is still ridiculously hot. Luckily it was my girlfriend who bought this up so I didn’t have to but wow. It’s rare you have Megan Fox on screen and find your eyes looking elsewhere.
The script is very funny but also quite down to earth (besides a couple of points I’ll get to later). I like that the characters speak like real people. Apart from occasional and obvious unusual dialogue for comic effect, the whole family and cast of characters speak like people do. They mention TV shows, movies and bands and while they don’t go into Family Guy territory, there are cultural references all over the place. I really think that this grounds the characters in our world. The relationship problems also ring very true and smack of realism. The lack of passion, money troubles and parental issues are all relatable and the reactions to the situations the characters find themselves in are feasible. The script is on the whole very grounded. Where I do have a problem though is with the issue of money. The couple get into financial difficulty which causes problems but I found it very difficult to take this seriously or feel sorry for the characters when their kitchen is bigger than my house, they have a pool, two cars (a BMW and Lexus) and two businesses. I think on the whole they’re doing alright. The big worry was that they might have to sell their giant house. Whoop de doo.
The central cast are joined on screen by the usual bunch of talented comedic actors who provide a couple of minutes each of improvised fun and laughter. Jason Segel is back from Knocked Up although he’s cleaned up a lot in the five years since the first film. He still has a thing for Debbie and has some good scenes late on with Chris O’Dowd. Megan Fox provides the titillation for the male characters and sparks a lot of the laughs between Segel and O’Dowd. She is fine but plays the usual walk on, hot girl character. Charlyne Yi also returns from Knocked Up and has some good lines which she delivers well. Melissa McCarthy once again steals the show, something she is becoming very adept at. She plays the mother of a boy giving the central couple’s daughter grief online and has a couple of fantastic scenes. The entire credit rolling gag reel is given over to her ever more strange, dirty and disturbed insults which are hurled at a crying with laughter Mann and Rudd.
A problem with This is 40 is its length. The movie is 133 minutes long and at times it drags. The fun of the pot cookie scene felt as though it was in a different film from the bike riding towards the end. I think twenty minutes could have and should have been shaved off the run time. The laughs dried up slightly towards the end as you’d expect when the plot takes over but there was a period of stagnation before finally kicking into gear again for the finish. I also had problems with the constant references to a well known brand of fruit technology.
In amongst the two hours and thirteen minutes though is a lot of great comedy, real to life situations, ideas and questions (I’d go for a walk along the cliffs and push her off). The characters, family situations and jokes are really well written and despite the odd flagging moment I enjoyed the film a lot. Even though I'm still a few years from middle age the worries about ageing are recognisable and realistic and the fears of all the characters whether 13 or 90 were all written with attention to detail. I laughed more than I have in any Apatow backed film since Anchorman and thought the story was as well crafted as any he has written before. There is more emotion and depth in the characters then he usually puts in and as a result the whole film is lifted above the average comedy and sits towards the top of the list of comedies I’ve seen in the last few years. I didn't understand the ending of Lost either.
Although the two central characters from Knocked Up don't reprise their roles, a photo of Alison can be seen on a wall and the cookies came from Ben.