One of the most gratifying aspects of watching “This Is 40,” the new film from comedy mogul Judd Apatow, is seeing this sort of “Apatowian universe” that he’s created coalesce before our eyes.
Actors from your favorite Apatow-directed flicks like “Knocked Up” and “The 40 Year Old Virgin” share the screen with stars of projects he’s produced such as “Bridesmaids” and HBO’s “Girls.” The result? A comedy dream team that is absolutely delightful to watch. Whether “This Is 40” is a vehicle entirely worthy of their talents is up for debate, but it certainly ends 2012 with uproarious laughter.
Dubbed as a “sort-of sequel to ‘Knocked Up,’” the film begins on the morning of Debbie’s (Leslie Mann) 40th birthday, which she fervently insists her husband Pete (Paul Rudd) and daughters (Maude and Iris Apatow) say is her 38th. From this jumping-off point, the audience is given the chance to peer through the window of their everyday lives – bearing witness to their countless arguments, sentimental moments and myriad of raunchy, uncomfortable situations.
And oh, those hilarious situations. Whether it’s a quarrel about Pete using his iPad on the toilet, popping a Viagra before sex or eating way too many cupcakes, Apatow manages to find amusement in the most ordinary occurrences, all without making one character more sympathetic or enjoyable to watch. This is also thanks in part to Rudd and Mann, who effortlessly play off each other’s zaniness and step aside to give the other moments to shine.
In one hysterical sequence, Pete and Debbie break the news to their daughters that they are limiting their technology use at home – instead suggesting that the girls go make forts, play with sticks, push tires down the street or build a tree house. Although circumstances like these are absurd, Rudd and Mann play them off with such authenticity and charisma that it’s difficult not to laugh along with them.
Where the movie stumbles is in its subplots regarding the rocky relationships Pete and Debbie have with their fathers – one of which is constantly asking for money, the other has been estranged from the family for many years. It is understandable that Apatow wanted to include some conflict that wasn’t solely centered around Pete and Debbie’s marriage, but these attempts at adding some emotional gravitas just feel tacked on and unnecessary, with less than inspiring appearances from John Lithgow and Albert Brooks. With such lovable performances from Rudd and Mann, those extra 20 minutes wasted on the parents could have preferably been spent further exploring their characters and savoring in their hijinks.
The standout of the film, though, is the incomparable Melissa McCarthy, who also walked away with “Bridesmaids” (and an Oscar nomination) just last year. Although she has just two short scenes, her rapid-fire turn as a brash, ill-mannered mother hen will have you reeling long after the film is over. Supporting turns from Charlyne Yi, Chris O’Dowd and Jason Segel are also amusing, and it’s nice to see that “Transformers” bombshell Megan Fox can be (slightly) more than just a girl-next-door cliché.
Whether it’s the inclusion of a marvelous original song by Fiona Apple, the multitude of “Lost” references scattered throughout or the presence of such a gifted, agreeable cast, it’s difficult to walk away from “This Is 40” mulling over the plot’s shortcomings or its gratuitous length. It’s a consistently funny film that, even when it sputters, does not leave its audience biting for a laugh for long. This isn’t the typical “bromance” comedy we’ve come to expect from Apatow (and a big step-up from his dull “Funny People” in 2009), but a relatable, entertaining romp that proves some comedians just get better with age.