I’m not shocked to see mixed reactions to Judd Apatow’s new film “This Is 40.” At this point, Apatow is making fairly personal films, and there’s a voice to these movies that isn’t going to please every single audience. But that’s exactly what I like about his work in general. I like how particular those choices are, how close to the edge of unlikeable he allows his characters to be. So often, people have their rough edges sanded off by studio movies, so someone’s either all good or all bad, and I think any rational adult knows that simply is not the case.
Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) were stand-out character in “Knocked Up” when they first appeared, and while this isn’t a direct sequel to that film, it makes sense that Judd would return to them to tell this particular story. The age of 40 is a major milestone, but I’m not sure it means what it used to mean. I’m 42 now, and I feel like my adult life is still revving up. It used to be that 40 was a shift into middle-age, but these days, people end up switching careers several times and reinventing themselves and 40 is now often an age where people are still figuring themselves out.
That’s definitely the case with Pete and Debbie in this film. Pete has started his own record label, which is struggling as he tries to define himself, and Debbie has a store of her own that is also struggling. It’s a scary time for them because they’ve moved from the easy affluence of their early marriage to a situation where they could easily start to default on payments, and the creeping stress of their employment situations is taking a real toll on their marriage. In this first clip, Pete and Debbie discuss their constant arguments and what is behind that friction:
This second clip comes further into the film, and features Robert Smigel as Barry, a friend of Pete’s. If you’re not familiar with Smigel, you might know his “TV Funhouse” animated segments from “Saturday Night Live” or you may know his hilarious alter-ego Triumph The Insult Comic Dog. At Pete’s birthday party, one of Debbie’s employees comes over to swim, and Pete and Barry make total fools of themselves just watching her. I like that this is as close as the film comes to doing what I was afraid would be a major subplot when it was announced that Megan Fox had been cast in the film. It’s a pretty canny turn by her, subverting a lot of what people expect from her, and what they think of her. She does not represent any serious temptation for Pete in the film, and this clip quickly illustrates why:
By now, I think you have a pretty good idea what you think of Apatow’s voice as a filmmaker. I think it gets more pronounced with each film, and “This Is 40” represents the clearest expression of it so far.
“This Is 40” arrives in theaters December 21, 2012.