Note: Due to circumstances beyond my control, I’m skipping the plot synopsis in this review, and going straight to my analysis. No appetizer today; here’s your meat & potatoes. (RM)
The reflex would be to write-off Judd Apatow’s fourth directorial effort off as an unfocused, unfunny narcissistic failure. I believe to do so is to take it at face value.
The film does come with its problems; it has enough plot for a film and a half, the lead characters can come off as whiney rich brats, and there are some poorly cast characters thanks to undeniable nepotism. With all of that in mind, I think the film squeaks by thanks to just enough good characteristics.
The film’s biggest problem is labelling itself a comedy, since it really isn’t one. Funny things happen along the way, but in many ways they feel more incidental than deliberate. In thinking about the film’s plot – two 40-year-olds go through their relationship’s mid-life crisis at the same time – one can see how little one should be laughing at the goings-on. It’s a situation that might include a few moments of levity, but it’s hardly a situation that screams “madcap romp”. I wonder if audience reaction would be as grumpy if the film wasn’t presented by “The guy who brought you THE 40-YEAR-OLD virgin”? But it is, and thus the film stumbles right out of the gate.
What I like most about this film is the large swaths of truth contained within it. Couples who are together as long as Pete and Debbie do change quite a bit as the years go on. The ones that will continue going down the road are the ones who have brutally honest conversations about what is happening. The unfortunate truth is that many couples won’t, and instead they will start hurting each other with ignorance day-in and day-out. Most films are afraid to tackle this sort of martial dynamic, and yet here it is nestled amongst poop and tittie jokes.
My favorite moment of the film summarizes that difficulty most couples face. When a passive-aggressive argument starts to slip towards genuine loathing of each other, Debbie asks point-blank “If I hadn’t got pregnant fourteen years ago, would we still be together?”. Paul doesn’t react, but we can see that he’s just been asked a question that needs to be answered promptly, otherwise it answers itself for you. The moment illustrates not only how far things have slipped for the couple, but also how blunt they are prepared to be. One wonders if that sort of either one of them would be that curt even five years ago?
It’s these moments that fascinate me. Not the jokes about death via cupcake, nor the frat-boy-esque passes at the comely employee played by Megan Fox. It’s the way this couple is forced to evaluate where they are at in life, both individually, as parents, as children themselves, and as partners. The digressions to Pete’s record label and Debbie’s boutique drag the action down. While they allow us to see other areas where these people are fucking up, it ultimately takes too much time away from the family dynamic…and becomes the film’s largest failing.
The fact is that we have reached an age where nobody wants to grow-up. We want to get married and have kids, but not take on the responsibility and communication that comes with it. Instead we want to keep hanging out with our friends, blaring our music, and posing as cool grown-ups when we should be role models. THIS IS 40 skims the surface of everything that comes with the day one makes that declaration.
Had it waded in a little deeper, it might have presented something much more profound.