Get used to hearing these words to describe This is 40: relatable, honest, raw, intimate. This is 40 isn’t so much a movie as much as a slice of life. Unlike Judd Apatow’s previous three movies (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, or Funny People), This is 40 doesn’t spring from a high concept. It’s a movie portrait of a couple, Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), who turn 40 within a few days of each other while following them along three weeks of their lives together. That’s the entire movie.
That’s so the entirety of the movie, for anyone who has crossed the threshold of leaving their thirties behind, you almost have to believe that you didn’t have to pay ten dollars to see this movie as much as pay attention to your own life and smile about it. Which is what This is 40 does: mines the mundane, day-to-day exasperations of life crossing into 40 for laughs.
With every Apatow production one has the feeling like he is tapping the veins of his own life and bleeding all over the screen. With every uncomfortable argument in front of company, awkward coitus interruptus, compromising medical exam, ill-timed flatulence, or barged in bathroom times, life has been stripped to its most real moments and splayed for everyone’s entertainment. There’s an unsettling feeling that we aren’t so much audience members as intruders on a family’s most personal moments.
The film then delves deeper, examining the insecurities of the family. Pete runs a record company that signs and produces artists who are past their selling potential but are still believed to be relevant (a not very subtle symbol of the journey into one’s forties). However, the company is losing money, playing havoc on the family’s finances; which aren’t helped by Pete’s freeloading father, Larry (Albert Brooks), ever-there with his hand out.
Debbie insists on telling everyone that she’s 38, runs a clothing store, and begins instituting a host of changes to keep her family healthy. This means her stopping smoking, no more junk food for Pete, and less internet time for her daughters, Sadie (13) and Charlotte (8), played by real life daughters of Leslie Mann, Maude and Iris Apatow. There is no single event the movie builds toward, but rather weaves all of the tensions together and rides them for the length of the movie.
“I feel bad about myself right now.” –Debbie
What the movie keeps coming back to is the pain and awkwardness of middle age. The realization that you may have to resign to aging gracefully, or at least come to terms with your age. That’s what makes the movie so universal: we all have the common experience of aging. We all have bodies that don’t work like they used to. We all have moments where we reflect on our life, navigating the perils of a spouse, job, kids, and that existential dissatisfaction with life and how things turned out. Wondering if you are where you were meant to be, where you dreamt of being, and trying to figure out a way to move forward anyway.
This is 40 is an anti-romance movie, deconstructing the “happily ever after” of many romance movies. It’s a keenly observed portrait of real life and the drift of that comes with relationships as people forget how to talk to one another. It’s uncomfortable, ribald, and hilarious all at the same time. It manages to maintain a free-wheeling, nearly ad-libbed feel to it despite the movie’s length (clocking in at 134 minutes).