Do you finally become the person you were always meant to be at the age of 40? Judd Apatow is now 45, and “This is 40,” his fourth film, is him struggling with his mid-life crisis. Apatow is finally showing his colors as a filmmaker, and the result is an unfinished, messy movie.
Maybe that’s life, or more specifically marriage, full of incomplete projects, spontaneous and tumultuous emotions and a life that seems to go on forever. But there are rocky, yet healthy relationships and then there are relationships when it’s really best to just pull the plug.
Something about “This is 40” is missing. Apatow knows how to write a good script, and he can create effortless chemistry between Paul Rudd and Apatow’s wife Leslie Mann because he’s writing so close to the heart. But when the film is another jumble of obscure pop culture minutiae (is “Lost” still a thing?), hipster weirdness (Charlyne Yi?), stream of consciousness vulgarity, nonsensical cameos (Billie Joe Armstrong?) and overwrought drama, all of which were problems in his last film “Funny People,” the act just starts to get old. And if this is film is about anything, it’s that getting old sucks.
Rudd plays Pete, who is turning 40 in a few days, just around the same time as his wife Debbie (Mann). Debbie chooses to lie about her age under the pretense that she doesn’t suddenly want to start shopping at Ann Taylor Loft, just one example of how Apatow’s film likes to throw out “40 stuff.”
Even the vulgarity, not just the pop culture references, is slated at an older audience. Annie Mumolo gets a big laugh talking about how she can no longer feel anything in her vagina, as does Melissa McCarthy during the film and during the credits as she spouts profanity to the school principal in defense of her son, but none of it has the outrageous appeal of an actual set piece that we might’ve seen in something like “Bridesmaids” or even parts of “Knocked Up.”
Apatow even stages these scenes as clearly improvised riffing, constantly cutting away and back for individual punch lines without actually weaving the comedy into the narrative.
So as Pete struggles with a failing record label and Debbie attempts to discover how $12,000 is missing from her clothing store, “This is 40” wallows in the minutiae of white people problems. Having high cholesterol or playing iPad games in the bathroom for too long sometimes earns about as much weight as the revelation of a surprise pregnancy.
Important and interesting characters like Pete’s father (Albert Brooks) or Debbie’s personal trainer (Jason Segel) come and go. Discussions about money, health and romance erupt into enormous, mounting conflicts and then dissipate into inconsequential drama about pop music the next.
Apatow doesn’t capture the feel of a generation or being a certain age as well as something like HBO’s “Girls,” which Apatow produces. It’s full of lovely, funny and charming moments, but is it a movie you’ll want to live with and cherish when you’re Apatow’s age?
2 ½ stars