Midlife-focused movie offers middling entertainment

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This is 40 is the sequel to 2007’s Knocked Up, except, this time, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) try to navigate the complications of turning 40, years after the events of Knocked Up.

In pop culture today, the mid-life crisis has become an accepted reality, and sometimes even an indulgence or a moment of spiritual transition. This is 40 tries to explore that balance, but tips toward the side of cliché. Debbie can’t keep her birth-year straight, Pete can’t stop eating cupcakes, and both are constantly devising secret plans to murder the other. From financial problems to Viagra to the ever-present daddy issues, the couple flounders through the entire plot.

Unfortunately, director Judd Apatow bit off more than he could chew with this episodic frenzy covering the misfortunes of three generations. Shifting between story lines is exhausting, but arguably replicates the tribulations of growing up and turning 40. Witnessing so many moments of sheer panic forces viewers to reflect on the direction of their own lives — a moment that can be incredibly uncomfortable for some.

Debbie fulfills every stereotype of a woman reluctantly hitting 40, insisting she likes Lady Gaga and partying with Megan Fox. And yet, Pete is no better, coincidentally resembling the flopsy man-boy Rudd has consistently played since his Clueless days. Some of their scenes perceptively show the sense of disconnect in the digital era while also dealing natural frustrations of a marriage, but their squabbles follow a shudder-inducing formula all to familiar to Apatow.

The genuine likability of the characters and the funny-because-they’re-true jokes redeem the rest of the jumble. The star-studded cameos, including Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, and Fox, lend a sense of familiarity, but also distract from the central plot. Sadly, This is 40 once again proves that a star cast does not a good movie make — see every Love Actually mimic ever.

Don’t get the wrong idea — the movie is funny and you get what you would expect from Apatow. But the humor feels slightly more prickly than usual, and a few too many jokes cross too far into discomfort to retain their humor.

A string of heartfelt moments and consistent comedy paired with reality and sprinkled with pop-culture references redeem this film to an extent. Still, This is 40 feels a little bit like a sitcom trying to grow up and become a real person.


Published February 14, 2013 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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