A common rule given to budding screenwriters is ‘write what you know.’ With This Is 40, the spin-off to the mightily successful Knocked Up, Judd Apatow follows this advice to a very rarely seen extent in his next bash at his particular style of comedy. Starring his wife and two daughters (Mayde and Iris Apatow), his lead actor of Paul Rudd is basically a portrayal of the writer/director, one can only imagine how awkward the set could have potentially become. If it did (and there seems to be no evidence of it), it does not show heavily in the film, where the chemistry between the lead family sparkles in this flawed but funny semi-sequel.
Based on the fan favourite unhappy couple from the Seth Rogen starring Knocked Up, Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, with undeniable and entertaining chemistry), This Is 40 is set 5 years after the end of that film (identical to the real life time distance between the US theatrical releases of both movies) as both leads hit the titular age on the same week. This arrival prompts a rethink of lifestyles from both parties as well as a reconsideration of where they stand in their relationship, the ensuing difficulties forming the main dramatic thrust of the film.
On the topic of the main plot, my main complaint with 40 is its overuse of sub-plots. One or two are to be expected, particularly in a film where both of the lead characters aren’t exactly relatable for the majority of the audience of an Apatow comedy, but far too many smaller stories are started throughout the runtime, some given room to breathe (trouble with fathers/children) with others begun and resolved bizarrely swiftly, with Megan Fox especially redundant in a role where she is required to be attractive and not much else. The sheer number of extra plots is genuinely overwhelming and make it hard to get emotionally involved at all in the larger, more important, ones when they are so often interrupted.
Despite this, the film can easily be qualified as a success, given that it does what it mainly sets out to do, and that is to be funny. There are plenty of excellent gags, through both visual and words, although those attempting to avoid low-brow, gross out humour will find no home here. Scenes of awkwardness never outstay their welcome and there are mercifully few examples of jokes moving into the area of discomfort, a key area for my personal enjoyment of comedy. The natural charm of the ensemble invites the audience to laugh along with them, and the obvious comic talents of Chris O’Dowd and Jason Segel elicit more than a few laughs, as do the daughters, who remain un-annoying throughout, something so rare for child actors.
Overall, This Is 40 is undeniably a bit of a mess in terms of its structure and plotting and often feels noticeably disjointed (and is, honestly, far too long) but does a very decent job of papering these cracks with effortless humour, as is to be expected from a film written by America’s leading cinematic comedian.
This Is 40 opens in the UK February 15 2013
Writer/Director: Judd Apatow
Stars: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Maude Apatow
Runtime: 134 minutes