With the cast that This Is 40 boasts, there were few films that I was as excited about seeing this holiday season. Paul Rudd, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel, Albert Brooks, and Charlyne Yi (I’m leaving out Leslie Mann intentionally)…what could go wrong?! Well…pretty much everything. Unfortunately, This is 40 will most likely end up being one of the worst films of the year.
This is 40 is Judd Apatow‘s sort-of-sequel to Knocked Up, his follow up to The 40 Year Old Virgin. The comedies have gotten less funny and more shrill since that first great pro-abstinence sex comedy. The latest installment follows Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann) and their two children (Apatow and Mann’s daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow). Pete and Debbie’s 40th birthdays are fast approaching and one of them is handling it much better than the other, and you can probably guess which. Meanwhile, their personal and professional lives are falling apart. They fight constantly (with each other and their children), one of Debbie’s employees is stealing money from her shop, and Pete’s indie music label isn’t as successful as he had hoped. They both have strained relationships with their fathers: Debbie’s (John Lithgow) is an absent mess while Pete’s (Brooks) is a mooch. As Pete’s birthday celebration approaches, their existence as a family is on the brink.
I’ll quickly dispense with the highlights. There are a handful of funny jokes and scenes, but after a while dick and fart jokes, to paraphrase the film’s “genius,” start to wear thin. Melissa McCarthy and Charlene Yi steal the show, which is an impressive feat with the likes of Brooks and Segel on board. Unfortunately, McCarthy’s character only serves to prop up an abysmal couple, which is the film’s main problem. None…absolutely none…of the characters deserve our sympathy.
This is 40 is an amalgamation of horrible people who, one begins to suspect, are clinically insane. In dire financial straits, Debbie couldn’t seem to care less about her shop bleeding $12,000, Pete runs a too-cool-for-school record label out of an office that could just as easily be a home office, and the two of them drive luxury cars and live in more house than they need. All the while, they puzzle over how to improve their economic condition. At the same time, they have little effective control over their children or their relationship. Debbie believes that a change in diet and minimizing the use of technology will magically set their family on the right track. As the film progresses, they begin to blame everyone (from their parents to their children’s friends) for their problems rather than accepting responsibility for their own actions.
With a wife soon to pass through to the dark side of her 30s, I know the jokes and concerns about approaching that mythical age of 40, but when that’s your lead actresses’ major character concern, then you’ve got a fairly thin narrative. When you couple this with the same character’s seemingly insatiable need for physical affirmation, then you have a film that threatens to set women back 30 years. But it’s also on par with the way the film writers perceive middle age marriage. While some of the jokes and frustrations ring true, too much of the film feels as if it was left to a 21-year-old to speculate on what that phase of life is like. The moments of the film that could effectively speak to middle-aged marital problems are completely over-shadowed by shrill, meaningless fights and puzzling character and relationship developments as well as hanging plot threads.
If you follow this site enough, you know that we are open to the numerous ways in which films frequently challenge theology. Yet this is one of those cases where the reverse is applicable. The vacuity of this family begs spiritual address. This family is restless because they are pursuing empty avenues that ultimately provide no spiritual or emotional fulfillment. They point fingers rather than repenting, which is just another way of saying that they fail to turn from destructive behavior that ruins their lives and relationships. In this day and age (with a continually struggling economy), their self-centered and pampered lifestyle rings even more hollow when people need so much care and assistance. This is 40 feels so much like a comedy version of a popcorn action/disaster film…a whole lot of sound and fury (or furious attempts at humor) signifying nothing but the reality that horrible people make horrible relationships.
This is 40 (134 mins) is rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language, and some drug material and is in theaters everywhere (though I imagine it won’t be for much longer).