You’ve heard me say this before, but it’s so much better to be 38 than it is to be 40.
That’s exactly how Debbie (Leslie Mann) feels in Judd Apatow’s new film, This Is 40.
On her 40th birthday, she has her husband, Pete (Paul Rudd), put 38 on her birthday cake, and she puts the wrong birthdate down when she goes to the doctor.
When Pete takes Viagra so he can please her on her birthday without pressure, she freaks out: “We are young people! We don’t need medication to have sex.”
Nope, turning 40 is not easy.
It’s not easy for Pete, either, but he’s less concerned with his age than with the financial stress of having a wife, two kids, a big house, and a failing business — not to mention a father (Albert Brooks) who needs a little cash.
Rather than deal with it all, Pete lives a life of denial and avoidance, either by escaping to the bathroom to play games on his iPad or eating “banned” foods (like cupcakes and M&Ms) outside at the trashcan before he throws them out. Mostly, he lives a life that indicates he believes everything will work itself out in time.
This is what passes for a plot in This Is 40. As opposed to the high-concept fare that tends to be Apatow’s stock in trade (40-year-old virgin finally gets laid, schlub gets beautiful girl pregnant, angry comedian gets cancer), here the film is merely a slice of life about a married couple coming to terms with their age.
The whole thing has a very familiar and lived-in feel. Part of that is because This Is 40 might be considered an Apatow home movie, were it not for the fact that Rudd is the star. (Mann, after all, is Apatow’s offscreen wife, and their daughters play the onscreen daughters as well, just like they did when the Pete and Debbie characters appeared in Knocked Up.)
But mostly, the film works so well because it is familiar. What viewer of a certain age hasn’t done some of the same things Pete and Debbie do? Who can’t identify with the realization that you may be turning into your parents, and the urge to do everything you can to stop it? And which younger viewers won’t sympathize with the two girls, one of whom is obsessed with Lost (“J.J. Abrams is ruining our daughter’s life,” Debbie exclaims at one point) and considers the loss of an electronics device to be the ultimate punishment? For them, the movie may as well be called This Is 13.
Of course, this being an Apatow movie, some other things are familiar: a running time that’s 10–15 minutes too long, raunchy jokes, familiar faces (Jason Segel, Lena Dunham, Chris Dowd, Melissa McCarthy, etc.), a man-child who needs to grow up and act like an adult, and a soundtrack that often serves as shorthand to underline the film’s introspective themes. (That said, for a “Midlife-Crisis Mix Tape,” it’s a damned good soundtrack, with contributions from Ryan Adams, Paul Simon, Fiona Apple, Loudon Wainwright, and of course, Graham Parker, who appears in the movie.)
But This Is 40 is bookended by some great laughs: The first half hour is very, very funny, as is the alternate take of a scene that plays over the end credits. In the middle is a warm center filled with sharp but accurate observational comedy and characters in legit (if slightly superficial) crisis.
This Is 40 shows that while we may try to fight it, there’s a lot to laugh about when it comes to middle age. As Pete and Debbie learn, it’s not easy to admit, but 40 really is not that bad.
I’m giving This Is 40 a B+.
How was it for you when you turned 40 (or 13)? Share your thoughts about that, or the movie, in the comments section below.