Thursday 14 May 2020

Movie Review: The Is 40 (2012)

A slice-of-life raunchy comedy, The Is 40 is a cluttered but often hilarious adventure through the chaos and confusion of life's middle phase.

Married couple Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) are both celebrating their 40th birthdays in the same week. While he is laid back and inattentive, she is having trouble accepting the reality of middle age. They are dealing with the stress of raising two girls, 13 year old Sadie and 8 year old Charlotte (Maude and Iris Apatow), plus the potential financial collapse of Pete's independent music label business and thousands of dollars in missing revenue from Debbie's small boutique.

Pete's father Larry (Albert Brooks) is a financial drain, while Debbie's dad Oliver (John Lithgow) is cold and distant. But most of all the couple now mostly antagonize each other. The sexual spark is gone, he resents her secret smoking habit, she despises his inability to control his cupcake intake, and they can rarely have a moment alone together. With their arguments getting louder and more frequent and impacting the happiness of their daughters, the marriage approaches a breaking point.

With co-producer, director and writer Judd Apatow zooming into his forties, married to Mann and raising the two daughters featured in the movie, This Is 40 is a family affair. The heartfelt albeit amplified exploration of the stresses and strains of kids, parents, finances and careers experienced by the sandwich generation creates fertile ground for pointed adult humour. In search of the big laughs (often found) the film does focus more on rub points and irritations, although Apatow does provide Pete and Debbie with one idyllic sequence at a holiday resort where they rediscover each other free of all externalities.

This Is 40 sprawls out to 133 minutes, and Apatow is almost right in thinking all his ideas are good ideas, but many of them are also irrelevant sideshows. The rampant improvised dialogue often hits the mark, and is therefore allowed to run, prolonging many scenes. Melissa McCarthy shows up for an extended sequence as a rival mother at Sadie's high school. It's a hilarious foul-mouthed turn, but almost unrelated to the rest of the film. Megan Fox also gets plenty of screen time as the suspiciously wealthy enchantress salesperson at Debbie's boutique in a sideplot about employee theft that steers towards a cul-de-sac.

Albert Brooks and John Lithgow are heavyweight support players, and so both get their share of screentime, earned or not. Jason Segel also pops up in a small role as a physical trainer. But obvious mid-age flab emerges in the repetitive arguments between Pete and Debbie, the two verbally sparring in every other scene of the film's second half, often circling the same ground with new versions of the same insults as Sadie joins them in tedious three-way screaming matches.

Paul Rudd is dependable, but Leslie Mann is brilliant. In a sparkling comedic performance riding the sharp edge between exasperation and self-deprecation, Mann sets the film's tone and grabs hold of a woman's disproportionate responsibility in setting a household's pulse. With Pete often hiding in the bathroom or avoiding his responsibilities altogether, Debbie, almost despite herself, embraces the challenge of making 40 work, a mission both seemingly impossible and fraught with zingers.

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