Fri. January 4
Dear Judd Apatow, I Really Hope This Isn’t Forty
The new Judd Apatow comedy This Is 40 is billed as a candid look at the lives of a married couple during the week they both happen to be turning that age when people are apparently supposed to begin “freaking out” about their lives.
Did I marry the right person? Am I happy in my work? Why do my kids seem to hate me?
Starring Paul Rudd and Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann, This Is 40 has a lot of laughs, a few tears, and less-than-or-equal-to zero answers.
Okay, so I totally get that it’s a comedy, and rarely does anyone with a lick of sense go looking for answers to life’s most important queries at the cinema. Apatow’s primary purpose as a comedy writer and director is to entertain, and in that he succeeds. So let me focus briefly on the positives that emerged from my screening of his latest effort (before I crush his self-indulgent, fabricated world under the weight of my logic).
In all seriousness, This Is 40 is genuinely funny. Like Larry David and Christopher Guest before him, Apatow has become a master of the awkward situational comedy. Memorable and emotionally satisfying moments occur in any genre of film when a director allows the scene to develop and isn’t constantly smash-cutting to Vin Diesel gunning down aliens while riding bareback on a dinosaur (who is both fast and furious). Some critics have complained about the film’s length (134 minutes), but I appreciate a director who feels that the story he wants to tell is worth more than the typical 87 minutes or so that most comedies run these days.
Whether that story is, in fact, worth it–well, that’s another matter.
What continues to impress me about Judd Apatow is his unapologetic inclusion of what I would label “traditional,” “conservative” values in his films. The importance of two-parent homes, establishing some semblance of standards of morality for your kids, the benefits of self-discipline, the value in making tough decisions instead of taking easy cop-outs; these are all great things, and Apatow should be commended for promoting them in his movies.
But in This Is 40, as has been the case with nearly all of his projects, Apatow takes those honorable values and drapes them in gratuitous language, sensuality, nudity, and nonchalant drug use on the part of the parents in his story. He then proceeds to steep his characters in so many flaws, so many doubts, that by the end of those 134 minutes he fails to redeem much of anything and the audience leaves sadder than when they walked in. To a comedy, may I remind you!
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of This Is 40 has less to do with the story being told and more to do with the casting choices Apatow made. I’ve already mentioned that his wife Mann plays Rudd’s on-screen spouse, but Old Judd took things a step further by putting his real-life daughters in the movie as well. Maude and Iris Apatow–fifteen and nine, respectively–do a commendable job in their performances, but I can’t be the only one who finds it a tad unsettling that a father would so directly put his baby girls front-and-center in a film where their mom appears topless, the bulk of the subject matter covered is light years above their pay grades, and marijuana consumption is heralded as the catalyst to rekindling passions between their fledgling parents.
Apatow is a supremely talented dude. The movie is certainly entertaining. But there is absolutely no need to rush out and see this one.
Especially not with your tween/teenage daughters.