For the majority of Judd Apatow’s film career, there seemed to have been a trend of movies about bromances and guys growing up thanks to gorgeous women in their lives. “This is 40” breaks that trend and seems more intent on two purposes: One it wants to desperately trot out Judd Apatow’s daughters as cute, witty, and irresistible to the point where casting agents will have to bring them on to their next movies, and two: to redeem the utterly despicable character Leslie Mann played in “Knocked Up.” Touted as a “sort of sequel to Knocked Up,” Judd Apatow sets his sights on the life of supporting characters Pete and Debbie to explore what they’re doing now that they’re turning forty and are still rather unlikable people.
Pete is still an insignificant and repressed husband and Debbie is still a controlling manipulative shrew. There’s absolutely no mention of characters Ben and Alison from “Knocked Up,” beyond a fleeting stoner sequence where Pete and Debbie get high in a hotel room and there’s brief lip service to Seth Rogen’s character. There’s not much of an explanation as to why Debbie, who is explained to have been a busy body through Alison’s life in “Knocked Up” suddenly never mentions her in the film. There’s barely even a cameo of them during a party scene. “This is 40” suffers greatly for being a very genre confused film that can never decide if it wants to be a very stern drama about reaching middle age, or wants to make us laugh at these characters for fearing middle age. There’s endless dialogue and improv that falls flat, and folks like Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi are basically wasted in favor of Apatow’s daughters Maude and Iris Apatow who play supporting characters to Rudd and Mann.
To compensate for the lack of typical players we see in Apatow films, Maude’s character Sadie spends most of the movie mimicking Jonah Hill with endless diatribes about insignificance and insecurity while obsessing over “Lost” for some inexplicable reason. And Iris as Charlotte is basically just a prop for inadvertent comedy and has no purpose other than to spout one-liners. Apatow never really reconciles the daughter’s character traits with the story, so their quirks are just quirks for us to laugh at. Why is Sadie so obsessed with “Lost,” again? Did young daughter Charlotte have some sort of mental tick? Meanwhile characters are trotted in and out of the movie just to give Apatow’s friends some face time. Melissa McCarthy has a walk on role that Apatow draws on for as long as possible for laughs, Jason Segel plays supporting player in an irrelevant role, Megan Fox is pretty much eye candy for anyone who intends to doze off at some point, Robert Smigel is mostly scenery, while Albert Brooks and John Lithgow play characters whose plots are unresolved.
“This is 40” really could have the potential to explore what it’s like to reach a point in your life when you may not have lived up to all of your expectations, but often times when it has the chance to delve in to some of that great dramatic material, it spends much more time on why Pete and Debbie are unwilling to accept their own faults. They blame each other, they blame their kids, they blame their jobs, they blame co-workers, they blame their parents, but never do they reflect on the kind of people they are. Character Pete is a man so void of courage and charisma, he spends most of his time being pushed around by people in his life, while Apatow back tracks and tries desperately to provide the audience with a plethora of reasons why Debbie is a shrew, and why she was a shrew in most of “Knocked Up.”
Apatow can be felt in the screenplay pleading “Debbie isn’t so bad, and my daughters are so adorable, aren’t they?” Sadly, all of this self-indulgence and favors to friends doesn’t amount to an entertaining or pleasant film. Surely Judd Apatow’s most self-serving, egocentric, and unpleasant comedies of his career, “This is 40” doesn’t hit the mark or touch on anything down to Earth in its entire run time. I don’t know how many audiences will connect with a good looking guy with two cute daughters and a huge house who can’t make ends meet in his record label, while his sexy wife has trouble with her business and her hot co-worker, but nevertheless, “This is 40” is apparently the middle aged experience Judd Apatow has served us.