This Is 40
Posted December 23, 2012 by Daniel Hodgson in
Truth be told, I stepped out of the theater for about three minutes of This Is 40. If something amazing happened during those three minutes, then I missed it. But I doubt it. I could have waited, but there was nothing in This Is 40 that had me glued to my seat. Sure, it’s mildly funny, and better executed than, say, The Guilt Trip. There are a handful of funny scenes and quirky characters, and the child actors in supporting roles are naturals. And it’s not that I hated it—I was just indifferent to it.
As the title suggests, This is 40 is more portrait than narrative. Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are a married couple, each hitting 40 within a week of the other. They have two kids, Sadie and Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow, writer/director Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann’s own children). Pete is a music producer of a retro label, and Charlotte owns her own clothing store. Pete’s label could be going under unless the next record makes it big, and they’re behind on the mortgage—dilemmas he hides from Debbie. Debbie, however, is keeping a secret of her own.
There’s a host of other complications. Debbie begins reconnecting with her estranged biological father (John Lithgow), who left when she was eight. Pete’s father Larry (Albert Brooks) guilts him into loaning him money he doesn’t have. One of Debbie’s employees is stealing from the shop. Pete and Debbie struggle to raise a child in the age of social media, who on top of it all is going through puberty, with all of the drama and mood-swings that entails. The list goes on. And on. And on.
Much of This Is 40 is about how Pete and Debbie just aren’t teenagers anymore. Unlike teens, they have to diet and exercise to look good, though Pete secretly snacks on cupcakes, and Debbie hides her smoking habit. Pete has to take a pill to get it going, and Debbie is years past the firm, perky body of her young employee Desi (Megan Fox), whom her husband and friends stare at.
The heart of the movie—if it has one—is whether or not Pete and Debbie’s marriage will survive. This Is 40 is about everyday life, and the film alternates between dramatic and comedic scenes.
As a comedy, the laughs are small, few, and far between. This Is 40 takes itself too seriously, being too committed to portraiture, when caricature and exaggeration are more humorous. The comedy is largely in the dialogue, but there’s nothing quotable or memorable. But as drama, it isn’t serious enough. The stakes are too small. If Pete’s retro label goes under, well…oh well? If they have to sell the house, it just means a smaller place or a condo. If they get divorced, neither were really anything special, but average, ordinary people. Getting divorced from Desi, now that would be real tragedy.
(Spoilers) The story plods towards one of those climaxes where there’s a big party (for Pete, which we knew was coming from the get-go), where there’s embarrassing revelations we the audience already knew. Everyone has it out, but little is resolved. In the end, the answer to Pete’s business woes presents itself to him, instead of the satisfaction of the other way around.
But again, this isn’t a story, this is a portrait. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the problem here is that the subjects aren’t especially interesting. They’re the people down the street from you. Would you want to watch them for two hours, if nothing interesting was going on? A story, on the other hand, has a payoff. This Does Not.