Judd Apatow has given us some hilariously raunchy comedies, but This Is 40 finds the writer-director in his grown-up mode, at least in intent, extracting the funny from the advent of middle age. But his understanding of life in the 40s isn’t necessarily the universal kind.
Opening Friday, This Is 40 tickles the travails of being rich, white and smug. Maybe a grown-up comedy isn’t in the cards for Apatow, whose best works (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) celebrate arrested adolescence.
His latest is a generally messy affair: often uproariously funny, but uneven, overlong, largely improvisational, packed with F-bombs and hobbled by sure-to-be-outdated pop-culture references.
These aren’t exactly the traits of artistic maturity.
And that’s fine — Apatow knows how to make audiences laugh, and he has launched the careers of many talented people — but perhaps sophisticated themes aren’t his bag.
Returning from Knocked Up, the comfy, suburban couple at the movie’s heart, Pete (Paul Rudd, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Debbie (Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, The Change-Up) are both turning 40. In a loosely structured, shambling narrative, they quarrel over money, sex, difficult parents and migraine-inducing kids (played, incidentally, by Apatow and Mann’s real children, Maude and Iris).
There are some terrific bits, and the large cast includes nifty turns by the great Albert Brooks (Drive), Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) and, surprisingly, Megan Fox (Friends with Kids). But Pete and Debbie aren’t particularly sympathetic or engaging, and despite a surfeit of ostensible problems, little appears to be at stake.
In the end, being rich, white and smug still has its advantages.