by Jase Howell
"This is 40" is a comedy/drama about marriage and family that can be characterized by may adjectives, but conventional is certainly not one of them.
If you're looking for that cute, warm and fuzzy film, go watch "Parental Guidance." If you want brutal honesty mixed with some outlandish dialogue, writer/director Judd Apatow's "This Is 40" is closer to your style. This honesty, however, may even be a bit much for those with tendencies toward this brand of humor.
The film is billed as a "sort-of sequel" to the smash hit "Knocked Up," although the leads of that film (Seth Rogan and Katherine Heigl) not only do not appear here, but are never even mentioned. Apatow has explained that even an invitation of those characters would distract from the tale he wanted to tell of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the couple that did feature very prominently as supporting characters in "Knocked Up."
Here we find Pete and Debbie both celebrating their 40th birthdays during the same week. We also find that after 10-plus years of marriage and two kids, the couple is battling life on all fronts - parenting, each other, age, finances and just about everything else a married couple grapples with. You may think you've seen this too many times, but believe me, you have not seen it played Apatow's way. Pete and Debbie have the usual arguments, but with Apatow's eye they are rendered much funnier. Take for instance the film's opening argument, which stops the couple from showering together and leads to a huge debate about Viagra. This material is very frank, but in Apatow's hands is extremely funny.
Pete and Debbie are both new business owners struggling to survive. Pete has moved on from Sony Records to open his own label that is floundering and hanging all its hopes on a comeback by Pete's geriatric idol, Graham Nash (who features all too prominently). Debbie, meanwhile, has a fashion boutique that is doing quite well, with the exception of the fact that one of her two trusted employees, Jodi (Charlyne Yi) or Desi (Megan Fox), has embezelled $12,000 from her.
This film also has some daddy issues, as Pete's father (Albert Brooks) is constantly asking for handouts from him, much to Debbies consternation. Then again, she has her own problems in trying to connect with her dad (John Lithgow), an absentee for her whole life. Both fathers have started new families and have kids the same age as Pete's and Debbie's kids, Sadie, the 13-year old acting like a rebelling 13-year old girl, and the precocious Charlotte. Both children are Apatow's own children, Maude and Iris, respectively (Mann is his wife in real life).
All of this adds an almost voyeuristic quality to the film as the tensions rise and the arguments grow more and more vicious and vitriolic. A writer/ director attempting to encompass the difficulties of raising a family while directing his wife and two children, with Rudd we guess as his face for the film. Then again, as funny as much of this is even in at its nastiest points (and it does get nasty for virtually every cast member) you could take away the actual family connections and this film would still be a rare breed.
If I'm uplaying the rough nature and realness of the film, don't be completely mistaken. Apatow's crackling wit filled with coarse but side-splitting one-liners is as evident, as it has been in some of his classics "The Forty-Year old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." It's just that toward the end of the film the characters are spitting the brilliant material in some very venomous rage as they are trying capture some true-to-life knock-down, drag-out fights. This a gutsy film, the things we may have found funny early in the film are almost blanched later by the frighteningly real nature of the conflicts' escalations. What was once lewd but funny is now just mean and hurtful.
But like a car wreck we can't look away from it and imagining ourselves in the same situation. "This Is 40" is raw at times, but real life is often raw. This is very ambitious project and a great success of a film from a guy some people consider merely a raunchy comedy director.