(Judd Apatow, 2012)
Judd Apatow needs to hire an editor who has the guts to tell him "No." This is 40 suffers terribly from his power and status and his own ability to indulge himself. His films have always been a little bloated and overlong in comparison with most comedies, but at least The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up had appreciable structures and some drive. This is 40 is an almighty mess of floating, interlinked doodles on the same subjects for the first hour and a half, before pulling a smidgen of narrative momentum together in the last act. In a young director who hadn't been responsible for billions of dollars of box office grosses as director and producer, that wouldn't be tolerated. But Apatow most likely has final cut on his movie, and if he wants to include numerous overlong scenes featuring his children improvising or linger a touch too long on his wife's (admittedly very fine) lead performance, then who is going to tell him to stop? Nobody is, evidently...
It doesn't help that the film is so nakedly autobiographical. Taking the characters of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) from Knocked Up, This is 40 chronicles their dual mid-life crisis as they both reach their 40th birthdays in the same week. They live in what - in most lives - would qualify as a mansion in an obviously affluent Los Angeles suburb, the house beautifully furnished and decorated and filled with electronic devices (every family member seems to have their own iPad), they drive beautiful cars and own their own businesses - he a retro Record Label and she a boutique. They have two daughters, one just entering adolescence, the other missing her suddenly too-old-to-be-friends big sister, and each has issues from relationships with their fathers. From here, Apatow introduces a large cast of friends, relatives and employees, and finds a few great scenes and moments from the result. But too often he instead spends overlong sequences embellishing slight observations on the quirks of early middle age. Much of this material has the sting of truth to it, as do the many gags and takes on long-term relationships, but too much of it is vaguely fuzzy and dull; a sort of lifestyle movie-making with a sheen of low-key edginess which is not enough to make it worthwhile.
Perhaps other elements are enough: Rudd and Mann are both superb, funny, sympathetic and believable people with layers and personalities even as their lives and angst are vaguely contemptible in all their ease and luxury. The supporting cast is a little ostentatious in its flagrant waste of performers, but the likes of Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy and Megan Fox all register well.
Apatow's films are always admirable for being about the world we live in now, even as they are so narrowly focused on a particular social group and setting, and This is 40 is no different. But a little less would have been good; if this had been 90 minutes it might have been a bracing, sharp, witty 90 minutes. As it is we have a baggy, middling but occasionally inspired and waaaaay overlong movie which feels like a DVD directors cut (one can only imagine how long that will be)..