Middle-Age Crazy: Apatow, Rudd, Mann Are '40'

Filmmaker Judd Apatow cast his real-life daughters Maude (from left) and Iris and his wife, Leslie Mann (right), alongside Paul Rudd as a California family in trouble — though not crisis — in "This Is 40."

Photo by Suzanne Hanover

Filmmaker Judd Apatow cast his real-life daughters Maude (from left) and Iris and his wife, Leslie Mann (right), alongside Paul Rudd as a California family in trouble — though not crisis — in "This Is 40."

Longtime Judd Apatow player Paul Rudd (left) is joined by Chris O'Dowd among a large and skilled ensemble cast in "This Is 40." (Photo by Suzanne Hanover/Universal Pictures)

Photo by Suzanne Hanover

Longtime Judd Apatow player Paul Rudd (left) is joined by Chris O'Dowd among a large and skilled ensemble cast in "This Is 40." (Photo by Suzanne Hanover/Universal Pictures)

Movie Review

‘This Is 40’

Rated R for sexual content, crude humor, some drug material and pervasive profanity and adult language.

An original comedy that expands upon the story of Pete and Debbie from the blockbuster hit Knocked Up as we see first-hand how they are ...

Rating: R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material

Length: 133 minutes

Released: December 21, 2012 Nationwide

Cast: Leslie Mann, Paul Rudd, Megan Fox, Jason Segel, Chris O'Dowd

Director: Judd Apatow

Writer: Judd Apatow

More info and showtimes »

Like a Tolkien dwarf returning to the Lonely Mountain of Erebor, Judd Apatow attempts to reclaim the treasure of frank and even lewd yet thoughtful comedy from the Smaug-like occupation forces of his many clumsy imitators in "This Is 40," a semi-successful if occasionally overly crude and sentimental return to form for the creator of "Knocked Up" and TV's influential "Freaks and Geeks."

Unlike Tolkien chronicler Peter Jackson, Apatow does not require High Frame Rate technology or 3D for his stories, for which the viewer may be grateful, especially during a scene in which Paul Rudd examines his hemorrhoids. What Apatow needs is even more dear if less expensive: smart writing and sympathetic performers. For the latter, he recruits his wife, Leslie Mann, and daughters, teenager Maude Apatow and grade-schooler Iris Apatow, ensuring that "This Is 40" will be interpreted as the writer-director's most personal statement to date.

A portrait of a marriage in trouble if not exactly crisis, "This Is 40" promotes a pair of supporting characters from 2007's "Knocked Up" to lead status, while revealing that the title milestone birthday that Apatow lampooned just seven years ago in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" is now all too real for the filmmaker.

Pete and Debbie (Rudd and Mann, both as charming as always) are an attractive longtime married couple. The somewhat neurotic Debbie is the owner of a struggling dress boutique, while the seemingly easygoing Pete is the founder of a indie record label dedicated to reviving the careers of such "serious" artists as acerbic rocker Graham Parker (who appears as himself throughout the film and now resembles, alarmingly, a cross between Lee Van Cleef and Irene Ryan).

The couple's teenage daughter, Sadie (Maude Apatow), is hormonal and high-strung, while young Charlotte is, well, cute (Iris Apatow is not a natural actress). When mom complains that Sadie will melt her brain if she keeps obsessing over "Lost" episodes on her handheld viewing devices, the girl responds: "It's not melting my brain, it's blowing my mind."

Many moviegoers will identify with the couple's marital woes, but they may object to the notion that the affluent Pete and Debbie, with their beautiful house, signed John Lennon print and designer exercise clothes, deserve sympathy for their money problems, especially in this economy. Pete, we learn, has loaned his schlubby mooch of a dad (Albert Brooks) $80,000, an amount that many people never possess to give away in the first place, while Debbie's distant father (John Lithgow) is a wealthy spinal surgeon. The action mostly takes place in an upscale California that appears bright and rich and clean and not particularly diverse, Jews and Asians aside.

As usual in an Apatow film, the comedy is mostly verbal, and its success depends on the easy delivery of a skilled ensemble (Jason Segel, Chris O'Dowd, Lena Dunham, Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi and Melissa McCarthy make appearances.) The sex talk is sometimes funny, sometimes forced (the opening scene involves Viagra); more frequent and often more amusing if even cheaper in terms of easy laughs are the celebrity references (Segel's impersonation of George Clooney's seductive "sad eyes" is priceless).

The humor is sometimes mean, and the characters are sometimes selfish; Apatow acknowledges these flaws when Debbie, with the encouragement of Pete, blames others for the family's problems. "It's not us, it's them," she whines, and this could be the couple's mantra. A braver film might have required Pete and Debbie to pay a price for their self-centeredness, but perhaps their relative invulnerability is truer to Apatow's experience, now that he's rich and famous.

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