It seems like there are some writer-directors who’s sensibilities are so close to my own that I’m likely to enjoy their movies, even if it’s not their most critically lauded work. One example would be To Rome With Love from earlier this year, which I’ll admit wasn’t one of Woody Allen’s best films or anything, but was still a really solid comedy that seemed to be instantly forgotten. This also seems to be the case with This Is 40, the latest film from Judd Apatow, who for me has about as good a track record as any comedic mind of the last twenty years. And yet as of this moment, This Is 40 finds itself certified rotten on Rotten Tomatoes (not that that means anything), and yet I found such a wealth of funny and insightful moments in this film, that I’m not really sure where all the hate is coming from.
Actually I have a pretty good idea where the hate is coming from, and it seems to mostly be the movie’s rambling plot and lengthy (for a comedy) running time. This Is Forty centers on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), two characters from Apatow’s earlier film Knocked Up, and again finds their marriage mired in an unending series of arguments and misunderstandings. Much of Pete’s story revolves around him trying to keep his record label in business by kickstarting a reunion between Graham Parker and The Rumour. Meanwhile, Debbie’s own dilemma also centers on her trying to keep her business afloat, in this case a clothing boutique. But really those are just one of the few overarching stories at the forefront of This Is 40, as the film has a fairly episodic feel to it, which makes sense considering Apatow’s background as a TV writer.
I honestly had no problem with the fact that the film has a fairly messy structure, and isn’t concerned with having some big crisis at the center of it, other than the question of whether or not Pete and Debbie will be able to stay together. To me, the looseness of the plot felt like a breath of fresh air compared to all the big dumb high concept comedies we see over and over again, particularly ones where Jason Bateman switches places with somebody. Also, I just think this kind of loosey-goosey storytelling added to the slice of life nature of the film, and made it feel more like an honest look at what it is to raise a family in this modern age, but with dick jokes.
Of course, coming into every Apatow movie, you know there are gonna be some laughs, but after the more serious Funny People, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from This Is Forty in the laughs department. Fortunately, this is a really funny movie, and it’s not hard to see why when the film is filled with comedic wringers like Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy, Robert Smigel, and Albert Brooks in a particularly memorable performance. And I think one thing about a lot of the jokes in This Is Forty is that they seem much more reflective of their characters’ psyche in a way that for me was a lot more truthful and emotionally revealing than Apatow’s usual barrage of pop culture references, not there aren’t a bunch of great ones in This Is 40.
Now even though the length of This Is 40 didn’t really bother me, I can still admit there could’ve been one or two fewer scenes of Leslie Mann yelling at Paul Rudd, and there are a few gags that are a bit too broad, but honestly I could (and probably will when the DVD comes out) sit through an even longer cut of this movie. As I said, Apatow’s just a guy who’s good at making the kind of comedy that resonates with me, and I think with This Is 40 he manages not only to deliver in the laughs department, but also to make something remarkably mature and ambitious for a mainstream comedy.