The fourth feature from Judd Apatow–his mid-life crisis feature (some might say “presumptuously”) titled This is 40–is a bold continuation of the Apatow brand, setting its course in a more mature direction. Granted, Apatow did this with his third feature, 2009’s underappreciated Funny People, but despite the heaviness of that film’s themes and the complexities of its subtexts, this one still manages to be a little more wise.
This is 40 is dubbed “the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up“, this tale of marital struggles, aging woes, and familial baggage stars Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann as the couple from the 2007 hit. Following them a few years later, and having them at the forefront, allows us a bigger window into their personal lives. We meet their fathers (played by Albert Brooks and John Lithgow, both bringing their “A” games to the table), and spend even more time with their (now older) daughters (played extraordinarily well by Mann and Apatow’s real daughters, Iris and Maude). Rudd’s character now owns his own independent record label, and Mann’s character co-owns a clothing store, on top of her high demands as a mother. The story begins the same week that both of the main characters celebrate their (unwelcome) fortieth birthdays. It’s not the plot that makes the movie interesting, it’s the performances, the dialogue, the characters, the soundtrack, and the honesty captured by Apatow’s insatiable pursuit of the truth.
The film is very much about “now”, but a lot of it resonates beyond the present, heading into timeless/universal thematic territory. It’s hard to say exactly if that’s where it ends up, but the aim is there, wrapped in a contemporary package that serves as an accessible gateway into the material. Though it may not be timeless, it will mean a lot to those who relate to the subtext and emotional goings-on of the story, which is undoubtedly what Apatow intended with this piece. However, it may end up being timeless by accident, since the footage is so packed with nuances that the riches are plentiful, if you’re willing to accept them. Those who aren’t may find the two-plus hours of reflection tedious and self-indulgent. I was not one of these people (not in the least), but they’re out there, and they’ve been very vocal about their disappointment.
Apatow’s films are like Woody Allen, Kevin Smith, and John Cassavetes all collaborated to bring their signatures to life, in that they’re about behavior and the human condition–which creates dense drama and resonating comedy, often a slightly auto-biographical portrayal of life (as he sees it), and his directorial body of work so far plays as one long film chopped into separate pieces. Obviously, each of these directors have their own distinctive style, but in a general sense they’re of the same cinematic family, with Apatow as their fulcrum. You can trace these three influences throughout all of Apatow’s films, and This is 40 is no different.
Leslie Mann’s performance is one of the great performances from any actress this century. The improvisational nature of the film allows for realism, spontaneity, and personal experience to thrive within the malleable boundaries that Apatow cultivates, and Mann takes full advantage of this. There are moments of true beauty, true drama, and true comedy, making the film an experience worth remembering. It provides plenty of fuel for self-analysis, and though Mann is the ultimate stand-out performance, the cast which surrounds her valiantly rises to the occasion. Rudd, the Apatow girls, Brooks, Lithgow, Jason Segel, Robert Smigel, Megan Fox, and the rest, all give top-notch performances, creating an ensemble worthy of an award, and elevating the film to the high quality it was striving for.
The blu-ray contains a wealth of wonderful special features, many that aren’t available on the DVD. The DVD contains some deleted scenes, gag reel, line-o-rama, and commentary by Apatow, but the blu-ray contains even more deleted scenes, the NPR interview between Terry Gross and Apatow, behind the scenes stuff, a hilarious on-set session with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, Albert Brooks’ own line-o-rama, and more.