Producer, writer, director Judd Apatow has become something of a comedy monolith in Hollywood. His name is attached to almost all comedies of any note since 2004 and he has a staple of actors and actresses that he uses from film to film. One of his biggest commercial and critical successes was the pregnancy comedy Knocked Up and it is from this that the lead characters from his latest film, This is 40 are lifted.
As married couple Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) fast approach their joint 40th birthday they begin to notice that life is not as ˜fun’ as it used to be. Spurned on by the discovery that Pete is using Viagra, Debbie decides to seek out a marriage counsellor to help them rediscover the spark in their relationship.
Like many Apatow productions This is 40 presents a foul-mouthed, unapologetic look at relationships of middle-class white Americans. Following the great chemistry shown in Knocked Up, Mann and Rudd’s dysfunctional family return with all the scabrous venom and underlying love and understanding from their previous film outing, but with the spotlight aimed directly at them they allow their characters to breathe a bit. Jason Segel and Megan Fox almost steal the show in their respective cameos, but the real heavy-lifting of the narrative is left to the central couple, and this is where the problems start.
Apatow has done more for women’s comedy on the big screen than almost any other producer. In Bridesmaids he allowed a host of women comedians to cut loose and establish themselves and the female characters are often as interesting and diverse as his male characters. Leslie Mann’s Debbie is not one of them. She is shrill, aggressive and thoroughly unlikable throughout. There is one telling scene where she remarks I don’t want you to think that I’m a nag, and then spends the next half an hour nagging, bullying and being unpleasant to the man she allegedly loves. But lets not leave all the criticism with her, Paul Rudd is just as much to blame for the conflicts within their relationship and his relentlessly slacking, disinterested Pete gives Debbie all the ammunition she needs.
It seems that since the arrival of mega-hit The Hangover, modern comedies have taken their laughs by focusing on a series of flawed and mean-spirited characters. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the fluffy nature of 80s and 90s comedies, but gone are the days where you have characters that an audience can actually root for. Instead we are forced to watch as materialistic caricatures run around screaming at each other for the length of the film and in the end, learn nothing that will help them grow. It’s depressing to say the least. Then there’s the length, which at over two hours is far too long for a comedy, not matter it’s quality.
This is 40 does have some great moments of comedy though, with some big belly laughs, but it’s unlikable central pairing, it’s overly long running time (over two hours) and it’s complete lack of character resolution make it a rather more sombre viewing experience than was probably intended. It never reaches the yardsticks of Apatow comedy like Bridesmaids, Knocked Up or Superbad and will, in time be forgotten. As for the director himself, it may be time to get a proper editor involved in his films as the self-indulgent length leaves This is 40 as one of the baggiest films his made. He can and should do better.