Judd Apatow, once synonymous with juvenile male-centric humour, is getting sophisticated. Just look at Girls. In case you missed it, Lena Dunham’s Golden Globe winner features – oh my god – a flat-chested, stomach-touting chica getting her own girls out. Sure it’s depressing that our concept of the female body is so narrow that a slight deviation from the fat-free norm spells victory. But a victory it is and one partially written and entirely produced by Apatow.
This Is 40 may not be as radical in its physical characterisations but the jokes hit the mark as - more surprisingly - do the relationship problems. Neither humour nor struggling lets up resulting in a film that’s a curious hybrid of comedy and drama.
Marketed as ‘sort of the sequel to Knocked Up’, This Is 40 picks up the story of Pete and Debbie, the second-billed couple in 2007 - now with a script that lets them be more than shrill harpy and cool dude. Both are on the cusp of turning 40. As the days lead up to this milestone birthday celebration, a storm of insecurity, frustration and financial trouble stemming from marriage, family and work rattles their union to its core.
Yet it’s all pretty hilarious. Apatow is a writer at the top of his game. Wildean bon mots, given a bawdy spritz, encapsulate and enhance moods. “I’ve spent my whole life busting the balls of people who have no balls,” cries Debbie during a climactic family altercation. Everything that comes out of characters mouths rings with the truths we’d speak if only our thoughts were scripted by a comedy genius.
Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann give well-paced and likeable performances, bringing an energy that serves the writing beautifully. Both are most at home with a comedy dynamic, which undercuts the edginess of some scenes, like the one where they discuss how they’ve fantasised about killing each other. That could have been slyly menacing but instead it’s played purely for laughs.
It’s a family affair from top to bottom. Leslie Mann is the director’s wife and, as with Knocked Up, his daughters are also in the mix as the couple’s kids, Sadie and Charlotte. They operate as a live-in sub-plot with the older Maude managing to make her character’s permanent screamy state of growing-pains seem poignant while Iris is the film’s cheeky little heart.
Albert Brooks and John Lithgow’s vastly different father figures root Pete and Debbie’s conflict in familial imprinting, demonstrating two outcomes of Philip Larkin’s analysis “they f*ck you up your mum and dad.”
As Megan Fox’s decorative role shows this is a glossier vision of life than in Girls. But surface trappings aside, This Is 40 successfully rips through a marriage, stripping it back through trivial annoyances to a raw place where there are no easy answers and laughing is all you can do.
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