The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
This Is 40

Reviewed by Lauren Jade Thompson.

Director Judd Apatow
Length 134 mins
Certificate 15 / R
Rating *******---
Filmmaking: 3  Personal enjoyment: 4

Photo from the article Trailer

This is 40 picks up the story of the family from Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up (2007), in a week where both Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) are staring down the barrel of their fortieth birthdays, struggling with debt, failing businesses and hormonal teenage daughters. And… that’s about it. An honest and amusing script more than makes up for the fact that plot is a little thin on the ground. The meandering story is not necessarily to the film’s detriment, but actually rather befits the film’s thematic concerns, offering a series of vignettes about the dramas and joys of everyday suburban life.

However, where the film really engages is in the performances. As in virtually everything she’s ever starred in, Leslie Mann delivers an expertly timed, carefully pitched comedic performance. Her acting has a rawness to it that is note-perfect in conveying her struggle to fix her relationship with her husband and to nurture her daughters into adulthood while dealing with her own anxieties about ageing. She is supported by an adept comedic cast, notably Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd.

What is really surprising is that the performance at the emotional fulcrum of the film comes from none other than 14-year-old Maude Apatow. With an openness and honesty that is reminiscent of both Lena Dunham’s young, droll, angsty acting style and of that of her mother, Apatow gives real depth and feeling to what could have otherwise become a flat and stereotypical portrait of a moody teenager. Through her performance, Sadie provides a real and stable point of identification for the audience throughout the film.

Apatow’s films have frequently been criticised for their gender politics and This Is 40 sadly does not escape this, still privileging a male viewpoint throughout. There are times at which it is difficult to tell whether the film is critiquing gendered conceptions of ageing or merely reinforcing and reproducing them. However there are signs that Apatow is trying to consider his appeal beyond white male audiences. For the first time I can remember in an Apatow film, we get to see that men are capable of ruining women’s fun too. Actresses like Mann and Katherine Heigl have had to bear the burden of po-faced-ness for far too long in Apatow’s oeuvre. So, while it’s hardly a feminist revolution, it is refreshing to have the balance that men can be party-poopers too.

This is 40 falls into another familiar Apatow trap, in that, at 2 hours 14 minutes, it is far too long for a film of this genre. Unlike previous offerings (The 40 Year Old Virgin, 2005; Funny People, 2009), it is not necessarily a ‘flabby’ film, but it would be improved if Apatow had the discipline to wrap it up somewhere near the 100 minute mark. It is partly for this reason that, in my Alternate Take, I intend to discuss whether Apatow’s undoubtedly impressive skillset and flair for directing and producing comedy is better suited to television formats. This proposal is not, as may be argued by some critics, intended as a slight or derision, but rather to create a space for considering his strengths and weaknesses in line with the qualities of the respective mediums.

Overall, This Is 40 is recommended for Apatow-fans and anyone who might have been put off in the past by the director’s more juvenile offerings. It is a frank, forthright, and moving portrait of family life, and for this can be forgiven its flaws. Just make sure you take an extra cushion for your seat and politely decline that upgrade on your Coke…

This review was published on February 24, 2013.

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