“I don’t remember, were we wild and young
All that’s faded into memory
I feel like somebody I don’t know
Are we really who we used to be
Am I really who I was”
Ryan Adams- “Lucky Now”
I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on Judd Apatow’s new film “This is 40.” See, the day after seeing the film, I was tasked with taking our five year old daughter to the doctor due to a weird burning sensation when she peed. Neat. So bright and early I packed my kid into the car and headed off to the doctor. Mere moments later I was kneeling beside her as she sat backwards on the toilet, a small specimen cup in my hand, my hand under her and my knuckles lightly grazing toilet water. I patiently waited for her to fill the cup. And as many fathers and married men find themselves asking more than once a week if not day: how the hell did I get here? As warm apple juice infused urine splattered my hand and I awkwardly tried to reposition the cup to catch it, I realized that “This is 40” is a brilliant and hysterical look at the joy and pain of being an adult. Life happens whether we’re ready or not and it’s typically a huge mess. No one knows this better than Judd Apatow.
Granted, I didn’t need my first golden shower to really solidify my thoughts on the film but the fact that Apatow “gets it” made me feel like a kindred spirit had made a movie for dudes (and chicks!) that have suddenly found themselves in the middle of a life that they don’t remember happening. This is a movie for me and you, if you’re around the age of 40, are in a longish relationship and/or have kids. While that may seem to chase off those who don’t fit in that demographic, rest assured, the film is hilarious across the board and supporting cast and subplots provide plenty of laughs and intrigue to entertain anyone who goes to see this film. And go to see it you should. It’ll give you something to look forward to in life, or, avoid completely.
In “This is 40,” we catch up with married couple Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Mann), who we met back in 2007’s Apatow blockbuster “Knocked Up.” Pete has a struggling record label and Debbie owns a small clothing boutique that’s missing $12,000 due to one of her employees (Fox, Yi) having sticky fingers. These are the dream careers, or at least somewhat so, that they’ve created for themselves and even these are faltering disasters.
But back on the homestand, things are even more out of whack as Debbie is turning 40 within days of Pete. If you’ve yet to reach the age of 40, you really don’t know what a mindfuck it can be. It happened to me. and even though I hadn’t planned on being tormented by it, my birthday that year was mentally traumatic and it took months to overcome and I’m still not sure I have. In other words, I felt the pain and existential angst of the main characters in the film to say the least.
Pete and Debbie have an awesome house and two incredibly smart, funny and confident daughters (Apatow and Mann’s real kids, Maude and Iris Apatow) yet things really couldn’t be worse between the couple. The fights have become tedious, repetitive and invasive as both know each other so well they can push buttons with brutally wicked ease. Even though they’ve been together upwards of 15 years and know each other better than each knows themselves, they use this insight to provide fuel for anger and spats rather than add to the compassion for each persons foibles. As if on a dime, Pete and Debbie can love each other like no other and then want to kill the other person. Literally. This, my friends, is how life is for many adults and Apatow simply nails it.
It’s no secret the best comedy comes from pain and excruciating moments. That’s why comedians are generally f****d-up people and Apatow is no exception. I’m not saying he’s f****d-up, I don’t know the guy. What I am saying is the comedy and drama in “This is 40” comes from Apatow’s ability to shine a light on deep, dark, f****d-up inner thoughts that both Debbie and Pete have and, once in the light, you can’t help but cringe and then laugh.
And clearly this is a personal film as Apatow fits the age and characterization of Pete and his real life wife and kids star in the film. This adds to the intrigue as well as the insight onscreen. Not only is the film personal for the filmmaker, I can’t count the times in the film where I felt like Apatow had invaded my privacy and thoughts and used them for his film. While at first these feelings were uncomfortable (especially since I was watching the film beside my wife of 11 years), I soon found camaraderie in these characters and their issues with growing up. The feelings of lonely struggle with my place in life suddenly didn’t feel so lonely and the laughing helped almost cauterize the desperate places I sometimes go in my mind.
“This is 40” is incredibly funny and insightful. Apatow has the ability to drop a well-constructed joke or one-liner on an audience without warning while also honing scenes to run a gamut of emotions, much like he did in “Knocked Up” and in the unfairly maligned “Funny People.” Think of how many times you laughed in those movies and then felt empathy, sadness and anger all at once towards characters. Apatow brings that to “This is 40” in truckloads.
He digs deep here and not just emotionally. We meet the fathers of Debbie and Pete, which are played brilliantly by John Lithgow and Albert Brooks. The polar opposite nature of these men give huge insight into Debbie and Pete and, again, anger and frustration at all of these characters seamlessly coalesce with comedy to make for a more fulfilling understanding of these people and a very good film to boot. In fact all the supporting cast here is outstanding (Fox, Yi, Dunham, Segal, O’Dowd and best of all McCarthy) and their scenes provide comedic relief as well as insight to the main characters. Plus, the music and musicians Apatow features here are people I listen to frequently.
“This is 40” is going to have some detractors. Many will think it too long and I just don’t agree. This isn’t a sitcom or some 90-minute laugh fest where characters are lightly sketched enough for a basic idea of their issues so the constructed situation pops with laughs. Here, you’re almost entrenched with the people onscreen as this is a character study, not a character fly-by. Others will take issue due to white guilt about how well off Pete and Debbie are but this too is a lazy argument. The fact that they have pretty great lives (on the surface) makes their personal struggles so much more universal. Money, status and a dream job don’t change the person you are inside. Who we are and how we deal with that is a lifelong issue and struggle we all face. “This is 40” gets at that and the stature of the characters doesn’t matter.
Judd Apatow lays it all on the line in “This is 40” and I loved it. I was stunned by the honesty he never shies away from and I laughed longer and harder than I have at a movie in some time. Rudd remains an American treasure (seriously, who doesn’t love Paul Rudd?!) and Leslie Mann again shows what only Apatow seems to get: she’s an amazing comedic actress. But then again, who would know the good and bad his wife is capable of more than her husband?